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Is Monkeypox in Belize?

In an official release, the Ministry of Health and Wellness this afternoon confirmed that three persons have been tested for monkeypox and have been reported as negative. Four additional cases are being closely monitored. Samples have been taken from those persons and results are expected by the latest tomorrow. We will know then if the country remains free of the virus. In the meantime, the ministry continues to conduct surveillance of monkeypox by its teams locally and regionally. Hipolito Novelo reports. 

Hipolito Novelo, Reporter, Love News: This afternoon, this screenshot Whatsapp message made its way to thousands of cell phones alerting people of a supposed case of Monkeypox at the Western Regional Hospital. At that very minute, we asked Health and Wellness Director Dr. Melissa Diaz about it. She said that seven samples were tested. Three returned negative, and the results of the remaining for are pending. Dr. Diaz stressed that of the four remaining samples none “fits the epidemiological criteria to be termed a case so far.” But, let’s say if a case is recorded today is the ministry ready?

Dr. Melissa Diaz-Musa, Director of Public Health and Wellness: “We have been preparing for a few months. I think that we are very prepared. Our team, and you may see on Facebook lots of pictures coming out from different regions of the re-sensitising and building capacity. You know our lab is capable of doing the testing right now. We get the test back in 24 hours, and Baylor is also helping us to identify the (unintelligible) or variant of the virus that would be present in Belize. So, we have all of that in place.”

Reporter: Have you began testing at border entry points?

Dr. Melissa Diaz-Musa, Director of Public Health and Wellness: “Well, it’s a little bit different. We have surveillance officers at all border points, but unlike COVID, it’s difficult to really pick up Monkeypox at the border points unless you’re actually swabbing everybody, because that person might not present with the rash immediately. We feel that most of the cases or any of the cases would present at one of our health facilities.”

Hipolito Novelo, Reporter, Love News: And, healthcare workers at these facilities for the past few months have been receiving training sensitising them of Monkeypox. As it relates to the Monkeypox vaccine, the government has requested a small amount. The ministry, Dr. Diaz says, will follow W.H.O guidelines.

Dr. Melissa Diaz-Musa, Director of Public Health and Wellness: “For the last few weeks, we have been continuing to sensitise our population, especially, our healthcare workers and to build the capacity in them to identify a case early and to isolate early and manage early. With regards to the vaccines like the question that you asked through PAHO / WHO we have requested for a small amount which we do as a region. So, we’re awaiting feedback from PAHO in that regard, but that has been sent up already. At this point, WHO is not recommending a mass vaccine campaign like we did for COVID. In fact, it’s geared towards healthcare workers looking after positive cases and household contacts where a positive case has come from.”

Hipolito Novelo, Reporter, Love News: According to the CDC website, Monkeypox symptoms usually start within three weeks of exposure to the virus. If someone has flu-like symptoms, they would usually develop a rash one to four days later. Monkeypox can be spread from the time symptoms start until the rash has healed, all scabs have fallen off, and a fresh layer of skin has formed. The illness typically lasts two to four weeks. Dr. Diaz says the ministry has devised a plan when it comes to isolation explaining that it depends on the patient’s situation. 

Dr. Melissa Diaz-Musa, Director of Public Health and Wellness: “In each region and in each district, we have identified isolation areas in hospitals, and as well for hospitalised patients who need additional treatment. There are places identified for them as well. If somebody has come in and they are otherwise well with just the lesions and a diagnosis is made and they live alone or they’ve been isolating for a few days, they can go back to that point of isolation. We’re also preparing and printing guidelines like how we did with COVID, with how to properly isolate at home, how to isolate in hospitals, and to reiterate the infection control procedures as well that we have at the Ministry of Health and Wellness.”

Hipolito Novelo, Reporter, Love News: More that 40,000 cases in more than 90 countries have been recorded. The mortality rate is low. Nonetheless, healthcare workers are ready for when the day comes for when Monkeypox is recorded in Belize.

Dr. Melissa Diaz-Musa, Director of Public Health and Wellness: “Our staff has continued to show commitment and continued to show that they are ready. We’ve done the infection control procedure, the donning and doffing of the PPE’s. Most of us are very comfortable with that. We’re just doing some further training for other people as well, for instance, the community health workers who work in the rural areas in the villages. So, we’re just trying to ensure that everybody or anybody from the health team who may be the first point of contact may be aware of what to do, how to deal with a case, how to isolate, and what gear they need to utilise to not be contaminated.”

Hipolito Novelo, Reporter, Love News: Reporting for Love News, Hipolito Novelo.