India is accelerating action against the monkeypox virus after reporting its first death due to monkeypox in the southern state of Kerala, that of a 22-year-old man who had recently returned from the United Arab Emirates.
The death of the young man is the first due to monkeypox in Asia, where several countries have reported outbreaks of the viral infection that has been declared a global public health emergency by the World Health Organization.
Kerala health authorities announced the death on Monday after it was confirmed that the man had monkeypox. He had died in a hospital on Saturday, about a week after returning from the UAE, where his family said he had tested positive for the infection. By the time doctors were informed, he was already critical.
Samples from the man that were tested in India also detected the virus, according to Kerala Health Minister, Veena George.
This is the fourth monkeypox death reported globally outside Africa. So far there have been two monkeypox related fatalities in Spain and one in Brazil.
Kerala health authorities said that about 20 persons, who had been in contact with the 22-year-old, are being monitored. Passengers who were on the flight with him from UAE to Kerala have also been contacted and authorities have urged people with symptoms to inform doctors.
After the death was reported in Kerala, the federal government said it is setting up a task force to monitor the outbreak in the country.
Fifteen laboratories have been designated to diagnose monkeypox while some states, including the capital, New Delhi, have set up isolation wards.
India has so far detected six cases of the viral disease – four in Kerala and two in New Delhi.
Meanwhile the government has invited domestic vaccine makers to consider making shots against monkeypox after the country reported some cases of infection.
The Indian Council of Medical Research, the federal medical research organization, said last week that it is willing to share the monkeypox virus strain it has isolated to aid the process of developing a vaccine. India is a major vaccine producer.
Vaccines already exist for monkeypox, including those used to eradicate smallpox. Experts have said that unlike COVID 19, mass vaccinations against monkey pox will not be necessary.
Monkeypox, which was first discovered in a monkey, is related to the smallpox virus, which was eradicated in 1980, but is far less severe.
The disease has been found in more than 70 countries where it is not endemic. According to The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention more than 23,000 monkeypox cases have been detected since January in these countries.
In a statement last week, the World Health Organization’s regional director in South East Asia, Poonam K. Singh, said the risk of a monkeypox outbreak in the region was “moderate but the potential of its further international spread is real.” She said that “We need to stay alert and be prepared to roll out an intense response to curtail the spread of monkeypox.”