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Zoonotic diseases outbreak in Africa

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By Mercy Kelani

There have been increased cases of zoonotic pathogens in Africa.

Currently, in Africa, there is an advancing risk of outbreaks brought about by zoonotic pathogens, one of which is the Monkeypox virus. The virus originated in animals before it switched species to infect humans too. It is a viral zoonosis that possesses similar symptoms that were visible in smallpox patients in the past. The virus is a member of the Orthopoxvirus genus in the family Poxviridae, and its transmission to humans occur through close contact with infected humans or animals, or a virus-contaminated material.

At a virtual press, held on the July 13th, 2022, the World Health Organization (WHO) affirmed that there has been a 63 percent increase in the statistics of zoonotic outbreaks from 2012 to 2022, in comparison with 2001 to 2011. Present at the conference was the Director of Public Health (Ghana Health Service), Dr. Franklin Asiedu Bekoe; Regional Representative for Africa, World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), Dr. Karim Tounkara; WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, and others.

Increased cases of Monkeypox is visible in April 2022, compared to 2021.

During the press conference, WHO released an analysis that revealed that between 2001 and 2022, 1,843 verified public health events were recorded in the WHO African Region. Of all these events, 30 percent were zoonotic disease outbreaks. These numbers have increased in the last two decades, but in 2019 and 2020, there was a notable spike when about 50 percent of public health events were represented by zoonotic pathogens. Almost 70 percent of the outbreaks comprised of Ebola Virus Disease and other viral Hemorrhagic fevers, while the other 30 percent was covered by Dengue fever, Monkeypox, Plague, Anthrax, and other diseases.

According to the latest data, cases of Monkeypox have had a substantial increase since April 2022, compared to April 2021. This seeming increase is more prevalent in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Nigeria. The outbreak of this disease could, in some ways, be attributed to enhanced surveillance and laboratory testing capacity, nevertheless, more detailed investigations are going on. The increase, however, is lower than cases in 2020, when the highest monthly cases were reported.

Zoonotic diseases could spread from remote areas to urban areas.

Since 2017, there has been an increasing rise in the cases of Monkeypox. Between January 1st and July 8th, 2022, there have been a total of 2,087 cases of the disease, with 203 confirmed reports. From the 203 confirmed cases, the cumulative case fatality rate is 2.4 percent. There are also 175 confirmed cases with case specific data, which comprises of 53 per cent male whose average age was 17 years.

There are several reasons attached to the sudden increase in zoonotic cases in Africa. Across the globe, Africa has the fastest growing population, which also brings about an increasing demand for food derived from animals which could include milk, eggs, and meat. The rapid population growth also speeds up the rise in Urbanization and encroachment on wildlife habitats. There has also been the improvement of roads, railways, boats and flights across Africa, thereby creating more risks of zoonotic disease outbreaks spreading from remote areas with few inhabitants to large urban areas.

Skin-to-skin contact could spread Monkeypox infection.

Above all, according to the CDC, there is no specific treatment approved for Monkeypox virus infections, but its genetic similarity with Smallpox makes it possible for it to be prevented or treated by antiviral drugs and Vaccines developed to fight smallpox. The virus could spread from one person to another through direct contact with the infectious rash, body fluids, open sores or scabs. To avoid getting infected, one should not have a skin-to-skin contact with people that are infected; no kissing, hugging, cuddling or sex with someone infected; and no sharing of eating utensils or cups with an infected person.


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