Monkeypox patient captured in Cambodia: African Osmond Chihazirim Nzerem identified a Chiang Mai language school as linked with his stay in Thailand on arrival last October but the Deputy Governor of Phuket, Pichet Panapong, on Friday, told reporters that he had overstayed his visa in Thailand by 4 months after arriving in the kingdom on October 21st last from Abuja, Nigeria. On Saturday, the Head of the Department of Disease Control, Dr Opas Karnkawinpong, said the man appeared not to have been a normal tourist and after he have crossed Thailand’s border into another country with authorities believing he had help from others to avoid working with officials.

Police in Cambodia have arrested the 27-year-old Nigerian man who was confirmed as Thailand’s first monkeypox case, this week, by officials in Phuket and the Ministry of Public health. On Saturday, the head of the Department of Disease Control at the Ministry of Public Health urged the Thai public to confidently go about their business after the country’s first case of Monkeypox detected in the kingdom, was confirmed in Phuket as a Nigerian national who arrived into Thailand on October 21st last and who mysteriously disappeared with senior officials strongly suspecting he had already crossed the border into Cambodia.

On Saturday, the Head of the Department of Disease Control at the Ministry of Public Health, Dr Opas Karnkawinpong (centre), told Thai people to carry on with life and not to be too concerned about the threat of monkeypox (inset) as it is quite difficult to contract. He explained that Thai officials were conducting random checks on Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD) clinics and facilities where such treatments were being made available, especially to foreigners, in response to the first case, detected this week in a 27-year-old Nigerian man who has since gone missing and whose condominium in the Kathu, Phuket was cleaned by a team in hazmat suits (inset).

Thailand’s Ministry of Public Health and associated agencies have launched a surveillance operation after the kingdom detected its first case of monkeypox in a 27-year-old Nigerian national who arrived from the West African country’s capital Abuja and entered Thailand last year on October 21st as a tourist while also holding himself out as a language student at a school in Chiang Mai.

The man has been named as Mr Osmond Chihazirim Nzerem who reported to a Thai hospital on July 16th with symptoms including a runny nose, sore throat and lesions that had developed on his genital area which spread to other parts of his body.

West African version of the disease

On Saturday, Dr Opas Karnkawinpong the head of the Department of Disease Control at the Ministry of Public Health confirmed that the African national had been suffering from the A2 strain or West African version of the Monkeypox disease which is also circulating in the United States while the B version is predominant in Europe.

On Thursday, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declined to declare the spread of Monkeypox worldwide as an emergency saying the disease did not yet fit the criteria.

The day before, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO Director-General, revealed that there have been 15,848 cases of the disease so far, concentrated in Europe, with 5 deaths, all in Africa.

However, on Saturday, the WHO boss came out and took the decision to declare the monkeypox disease a ‘global health emergency’.

Disease not a threat to most Thai people who can go about their lives normally says top health official

Thailand was among six countries that reported their first cases of the disease this week, becoming the 72nd country to be listed in this outbreak.

Dr Opas underlined that for most Thai people, this disease was not a threat and encouraged them to go about their normal business as it required very close and intimate contact to spread in limited circumstances.

He said that health officials were now heightening checks on STD clinics and hospitals and facilities that treat cases of sexually transmitted diseases, especially those that have foreigners as patients.

He said that the incubation period for the disease was 21 days but it was far less likely to be transmissible than COVID-19.

Scores being monitored while hundreds are being tested as Phuket officials track down those who came into contact with the 27-year-old Nigerian national

A total of 33 at-risk people who came in contact with the man in Phuket are being monitored with 19 of those being in a ‘high risk’ category.

So far, none have tested positive for the disease. In all, Dr Opas said 38 people have been tested with 31 already coming back negative.

At the same time, authorities were taking no chances and were tracking the man’s known contacts at two entertainment venues in Phuket with authorities on the island monitoring hundreds of people.

‘From the preliminary background examination, we found suspects in various places,’ said the official. ‘There has been proactive screening by the Phuket Communicable Disease Committee. They found two entertainment places where the patient went to use the service. We will screen for symptoms of fever, cough, sore throat or blisters. This involved screening 142 people who were found to have fever, cough, sore throat and body aches. Six confirmed that they had not been in close contact with the patient. They were sent to test for infection, five cases were not found. The other went abroad. The remainder had no blisters, requiring 21-day follow-up of symptoms,’ he outlined.

Man went missing after being told to isolate by the local Phuket hospital he reported to on July 16th

Dr Opas said, earlier on Saturday the man with the infection was believed to have exited Thailand through a normal frontier border crossing before officials confirmed his arrest in Cambodia.

He also mentioned that when entering Thailand in October last, the man had given the identity of a language school in Chiang Mai to Immigration Bureau officers and did not appear to be a typical tourist.

Once it was confirmed that the Nigerian had the disease, a massive tracking and surveillance operation was launched especially after it was revealed that he had visited the entertainment venues in Phuket’s Patong nightlife area.

An initial briefing on the case was given by the Deputy Governor in Phuket Pichet Panapong on Friday.

The top island official also revealed that the Nigerian national had gone missing after he was advised by the hospital to go into isolation at his condominium in the Kathu district of Phuket.

Case elevated after testing positive for Monkeypox

Medical officials at the Vachira Phuket Hospital, which he attended on Saturday the 16th of July, did not consider his condition as serious at that time.

His case was later elevated when he tested positive for monkeypox and hospital officials were unable to contact him by phone.

Since then, two separate laboratory tests have confirmed that the man was suffering from monkeypox.

On Friday, it was reported that a cleanup had taken place at the condominium he was staying in with Immigration Bureau officers in Phuket coordinating with other police agencies including the Border Patrol Police nationwide in a search for the infected man who was reported as illegally avoiding them. 

Mr Nzerem thought to have left country for Cambodia with the last ping of his phone detected in Sa Kaeo

It is understood that authorities believed Mr Nzerem had already left the country with a signal from his smartphone detected near Sa Kaeo Province adjacent to the Thai border with Cambodia.

The phone has now been switched off.

Thai police and medical health agencies have been in contact with their counterparts in the eastern kingdom in an attempt to track down the man resulting in his later arrest.

Dr Kusak Kukiartkul, the public health chief in Phuket, revealed that Mr Nzerem appeared to have overstayed his visa by four months although police are trying to get information from a language school in Chiang Mai which had been reported to have links with the Nigerian but have not received full cooperation from those involved.

It is now also thought that Mr Nzerem may have had wider links within the kingdom as he seems to have been helped in his escape from Thailand.

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Further reading:

Monkeypox case in Thailand confirmed in transit passenger at Suvarnabhumi Airport last week

Thailand Pass to be used in Monkeypox screening at airports with new RT-PCR test for the disease