First monkeypox case definitively found in Netherlands
This story was updated.
The monkeypox virus has been diagnosed for the first time ever in the Netherlands, reported the Dutch public health institute RIVM. The organization believes that even more people may have been infected. They did not provide information about the person's age, gender, or place of residence.
Earlier on Friday, the RIVM said that there are several possible cases of monkeypox virus in the Netherlands. The samples were sent for examination at a laboratory. Many other European countries had already discovered their first cases during the current outbreak, and the RIVM believed it was only a matter of time before the same could be said of the Netherlands. This theory was also supported by Health Minister Ernst Kuipers.
The virus is native to West and Central Africa. It occasionally shows up in other countries, but it typically concerns a single case of someone who has recently been to Africa and may have infected someone else. The current outbreak is remarkably large. Infections have been detected in Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
It is not known whether the first patient in the Netherlands was recently in Africa. Many patients in other countries have not been to Africa. Moreover, they have often had no contact with each other, meaning the infections seem to be separate from each other, troubling experts.
According to Jaap van Dissel, the monkeypox virus "is not a classic STI", the RIVM boss told RTL Nieuws. He did say that "intensive physical contact is generally necessary to transfer it," but apart from that the virus can also spread "in the more classical way."
The monkeypox virus is highly contagious, but the disease is typically mild in most people. They may initially experience fever, headache, muscle aches, swollen lymph nodes, chills, and fatigue. After a few days, they can also develop a rash. The symptoms disappear within a few weeks. The vast majority of people heal on their own. The virus can be dangerous for people who already have a weakened immune system.
The general vaccination against smallpox also protects against the monkeypox virus, but it is not yet certain whether such a vaccine will be used, said Van Dissel. "That could be. But, just to be clear, we are not that far yet. We first want to know the problem. We want to know what the risks are of transmission from abroad." He did not rule out the possibility that such a vaccination policy will be introduced at some point. "In any case, we have the vaccines for it if necessary," the RIVM boss told RTL Nieuws.
Belgian virologist Marc Van Ranst told RTL Nieuws, "We are in a bit of unknown territory because the outbreak is unusual. So at the moment it is too early to speculate much about that."
People can contract the virus through close contact, for example by touching someone's open wound. Virus particles can also be on bed linen, for example. In previous outbreaks of monkeypox virus, skin rashes started on the face. Now, the first blisters are appearing around the anus.
"That is different from what we are used to from the virus," according to the RIVM. Among the monkeypox patients are a striking number of men who have sex with other men. They may have become infected through close contact during sex.
The Flanders region of Belgium has introduced a mandatory 21-day isolation period for people infected with the monkeypox virus. Experts there made the decision after holding talks about how best to tackle the spread of the virus, the Flemish health authority said on Friday. So far, two cases of monkeypox have been clinically registered in the Dutch-speaking part of Belgium, but the partner of one of the two patients is also showing symptoms.
High-risk contacts such as roommates, sexual partners and caregivers do not have to go into isolation in advance, but should monitor themselves closely for symptoms such as fever, headache, muscle aches, chills, exhaustion and rash. That rash often starts on the face and then spreads to other parts of the body. According to the government there, people with reduced immunity, pregnant women, and children should also be vigilant, as well as men who have sex with men.
Reporting by ANP