Experts urge calm response on monkeypox

Courtesy of National Institute of Infectious Diseases
An electron microscopic image of the monkeypox virus

In response to the possible spread of monkeypox within the country, the health ministry has prepared smallpox vaccines, which are believed to be effective against monkeypox, and curative drugs.

“Infections are spreading around the world,” Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike said Monday night. “It’s not too big of a concern, but please try to take precautions, such as by practicing good hand hygiene.”

Monkeypox is classified as a Category IV infectious disease, the same as rabies and dengue fever. Doctors must report cases where a patient has been infected with the disease to a public health center.

Most patients do not need to be hospitalized, but the ministry has asked prefectural governments to be ready to accept patients in hospitals.

No drug has been approved for monkeypox in Japan.

The ministry has imported tecovirimat, a drug approved for smallpox in Europe, and set up a system to administer the drug for a clinical trial in Tokyo, Osaka, Aichi and Okinawa prefectures.

Smallpox vaccines, meanwhile, are said to be about 85% effective in preventing monkeypox. The ministry will allow administration of the vaccines to those who have had close contact with monkeypox patients at some hospitals for the purpose of clinical trials only. The ministry is considering formally approving use of the vaccines for monkeypox in the future.

The vaccines are being produced domestically, and a ministry official said, “We have secured enough doses.”

According to the WHO, patients in Europe and the United States, where monkeypox has spread rapidly, are mostly men, and many of them have had sexual contact with other men. Even so, infections can take place regardless of age or sex if a person comes into close contact with an infected person. The WHO has warned health care workers and families who live with patients to exercise caution.

“Sexual relations is not the only route of infections, so we don’t want the public to be prejudiced,” a ministry official said. “If you have a rash or any of the other symptoms, please visit a nearby medical institution and take basic infection control measures, such as sanitizing your hands and wearing a mask.”

Okayama University of Science Prof. Shigeru Morikawa, an expert on monkeypox, said, “Monkeypox has a low risk of transmission through droplets, and spreads mostly through close physical contact with an infected person.

“Infection control measures such as handwashing are common among Japanese. We should be able to prevent the spread of monkeypox in the country if we identify patients early and take adequate measures.”

The Foreign Ministry on Monday issued a Level 1 travel warning for monkeypox, the lowest level alert under its four-tier system of travel advice and warnings for infectious diseases. As for the novel coronavirus, Level 1-3 warnings have been issued for countries around the world, with Level 3 — “Avoid all travel” — having been issued for 41 countries.