South Africa's Minister of Health, Dr Joe Phaahla looks on during the visit of the World Health Organisation's Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in Cape Town. Image Credit: REUTERS file

JOHANNESBURG: An outbreak of mpox has killed one person and infected four more in South Africa, the government said on Wednesday, adding it was trying to secure more treatment drugs as a precaution.

The five cases, reported between May 8 and June 7, were the first recorded in the country since 2022, Health Minister Joe Phaahla told reporters.

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“One death is too many, especially from a preventable and manageable disease,” Phaahla said, urging those with suspected symptoms to seek medical attention and help trace contacts.

Previously known as monkeypox, mpox is a viral illness transmitted through close contact with infected humans or animals, as well as via materials such as contaminated sheets.

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The disease causes painful and scarring lesions, principally to the face, anus and genitals.

Common symptoms include a skin rash, fever, headache, muscle aches and swollen lymph nodes, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Mpox was first discovered in humans in 1970 in the Democratic Republic of Congo, with the spread since then mainly limited to certain West and Central African nations.

Disease renamed
The term "mpox" was introduced by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2022 as part of efforts to rename the disease in a way that avoids stigmatization and aligns with current best practices for naming diseases. "Monkeypox" is the older name and has been used since the virus was first identified in monkeys in 1958, but the disease itself can affect various animals and is transmitted to humans primarily through contact with infected animals or human-to-human transmission.

But in May 2022, infections surged worldwide, mostly among men who have sex with men, leading the WHO to declare it a global health emergency.

The UN agency ended the alert last year but low-level transmission of mpox continues across the world.

More than 97,000 cases and 186 deaths were reported across 117 countries in the first four months of 2024, according to the WHO.

Phaahla said that all those recently infected in South Africa were men in their 30s.

Their cases were classified as severe. Two remain in hospital, he said.

“Our intention is to obtain a stockpile of Tecovirimat treatment for rapid deployment in case the current situation leads to a wider outbreak,” Phaahla said, referring to an antiviral drug.