The health ministry should prioritise men who take the preventive HIV drug PrEP for vaccination against the monkeypox virus, experts have recommended.
Some 352 infections have been recorded in the Netherlands so far, predominantly among men who had sex with different male partners and mostly in Amsterdam. That number will be updated by the RIVM health institute on Thursday.
The virus is transmitted via skin-on-skin contact and may also be transmitted by air as well as during sex.
Anyone can get the virus, infectious disease doctor at Soa Aids Nederland Hanna Bos said. ‘If I hug an infected person chances are that I will get it too,’ she told current affairs programme Nieuwsuur. Bos said vaccination should start sooner rather than later.
‘Other countries have already started their vaccination programmes. The group that we want to prioritise is easy to reach and we should start now before the virus spreads any further.’
Response team member Chantal Bleeker-Rovers said preventive vaccination is important because once a person is infected it is ‘difficult to get a reliable picture of that person’s at risk contacts’.
Monkeypox, which was first reported in humans in Congo in 1970, is seldom fatal, particularly in western countries with access to good healthcare. Symptoms include headache, muscle ache, swollen lymph nodes, chills, tiredness and the typical blistering which occurs three days after the infection has taken hold.
The spread of the monkeypox virus is not comparable to that of coronavirus, RIVM spokesperson Marah Michel told Nieuwsuur. ‘We have had eight weeks of monkeypox virus in the Netherlands and we are only up to 350 cases so far, just one of which needed hospital treatment for skin problems.’
But although the virus does not seem to pose too many dangers, the RIVM fears that events such as the Pride festival, due to start at the end of the month, could accelerate the spread.
The monkeypox vaccine is a newer version of the old smallpox vaccine which proved so succesful the disease had been eradicated worldwide by 1980.
The current vaccine does not offer complete protection against the virus, Bleeker-Rovers said. ‘You can still become infected, get blisters and infect others, only to a lesser degree.’
People who have the virus are asked to refrain from intimate contact but no longer have to into quarantine.
The health ministry is expected to make a decision on the recommendation later this week or next week.
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