BOGOTA, July 30 (Xinhua) -- As monkeypox cases in Colombia increase, Gina Tambini, representative of Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) to the country, urged the population to take precautions to prevent the disease.
"People who live with or have direct contact (including sexual contact) with someone who has monkeypox or who have regular contact with animals that could be infected are at greater risk of contagion ... healthcare staff should (also) adopt infection prevention and control measures to protect themselves while caring for patients," she told Xinhua in a recent interview.
Monkeypox is not as contagious as COVID-19, and its transmission requires direct contact with an infected person, with a contaminated environment, or with an infected animal, she said.
"We have a window of opportunity to control this outbreak if we work closely with the communities and groups most at risk to stop transmission. Right now, it is crucial that we all work together to stop the spread," she added.
The expert pointed out that the World Health Organization's response to the outbreak has been to focus on preventing the further spread of the disease and "raise awareness" about the situation.
Tambini said that infected patients are contagious while they have symptoms between the first two and four weeks, and that the condition can be contracted through physical contact with someone who is symptomatic or with their personal belongings.
"The virus can also be transmitted from a pregnant woman to the fetus through the placenta or through an infected parent's contact with the child during or after delivery through skin-to-skin contact. However, it is unclear whether asymptomatic people can transmit the disease," the official said.
Regular hand washing, disinfection of surfaces with 70 percent alcohol -- especially after contact with the virus -- washing clothes and eating utensils with hot water, as well as the proper disposal of contaminated waste are critical to mitigating the impact of the disease, according to medical advice.
Though the disease was first detected in several monkeys in a laboratory in 1958, most animals can contract the virus, with rodents being most susceptible, Tambini told Xinhua.
She added that before this current round of outbreak, monkeypox infections in humans were rare, especially outside Central and West Africa, where the virus is endemic in animals and circulates mainly in densely forested areas.
"As cases with no known travel links to Africa emerged in several countries, alerts were raised. This type of monkeypox behavior has not been seen before. The rapid spread of this disease could be associated with the concentration of various clusters of the population at risk, as well as the improvement of diagnostic capabilities," she said.
Colombia's National Institute of Health on Friday confirmed 15 cases of monkeypox in the country, 11 of them in Bogota, one in the department of Valle del Cauca, one in the city of Pereira, one in Medellin, and one in Cundinamarca. ■