Although no cases of monkeypox have been confirmed in the territory, the Ministry of Health and Social Development is increasing its surveillance of the threat as a response to cases elsewhere in the region.

“It is critical that the British Virgin Islands raises its awareness and enters into a state of heightened vigilance and readiness so that the territory can respond quickly to reduce human-to-human transmission,” the ministry warned in a Friday press release.

Monkeypox is a viral disease with symptoms that are similar to those caused by smallpox, but less severe, according to Chief Medical Officer Dr. Ronald Georges.

Symptoms include fevers, headaches, back pain, muscle aches, exhaustion, and swollen lymph nodes.

The virus can progress to a widespread rash on the face and body that can eventually turn into pus-filled blisters that crust over. Symptoms can take five to 21 days to appear.

“Monkeypox disease is usually mild and rarely fatal,” Dr. Georges said. “Most people recover in a few weeks without treatment. The current mode of transmission is predominantly through close human-to-human contact. Direct contact with infectious skin lesions, blood or body fluids and respiratory droplets (e.g., coughs and sneezes) and handling of contaminated clothing, linens or bedding of those used by an infected or sick person can also serve as sources of infection.”

He encouraged residents to practise good hygiene, to avoid contact with infected or sick people, to wear face masks around anyone with symptoms, and to practise safe sex.

The ministry cited increased travel and the relaxation of Covid-19 suppression measures as reasons why it is increasing its vigilance against monkeypox.