Phuket monkey pox man on the run

PHUKET: Authorities in Phuket are trying to track down the 27-year-old Nigerian man recognized as the first confirmed monkeypox infection in the country after leaving his rented accommodation in Patong on Tuesday (July 19).

Phuket Provincial Police Commander Major General Sermphan Sirikong revealed the news at a press conference this morning (July 22).

The man (later named Osmond Chihazirim Nzere) arrived in Thailand at Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok on October 21 last year, the official patient investigation report by the Provincial Health Bureau said. Phuket Public Service (PPHO) also released today.

The head of the PPHO, Dr. Kusak Kiattikoon, was present at the press conference to announce the findings of the PPHO.

The man had been staying at a condominium development in Kathu since November, the PPHO report said.

Major General Semphan clarified that the condo was in Patong (*See update below).

The man had a history of being at risk of touching tourists at Patong entertainment venues two to three weeks before he fell ill. He also had a history of unprotected sex, the PPHO report notes.

The man had failed to show up for a doctor’s appointment on Tuesday morning, Major General Sermphan said.

His mobile phone is now switched off and officers confirmed he left the Patong condominium in a taxi, he added.

The man had also overstayed his visa, Major General Sermphan also noted.

The man was last seen by a condo project cleaner at 3 p.m. on Tuesday, July 19. When the housekeeper knocked on the door to her apartment, the man responded by opening the door, but did not open the door wide. He told the lady that the room didn’t need to be cleaned.

At 9 p.m. Tuesday, condo staff noticed the man had left his condo key on the front desk counter. No staff member saw the man leave the building.

The man was first suspected of being infected last Saturday (July 16), when he presented to a private hospital, the PPHO report notes.

The hospital sent samples to Chulalongkorn Hospital for testing, the report added.

Test results from Monday July 18 confirmed that the man was infected. The Research Institute for Public Health Sciences confirmed the test results on Tuesday.

Further investigation by disease control officers was conducted on Wednesday along with local government organizations and relevant agencies.

All areas the man was known to come into contact with, including the condo where he was staying, were sanitized with disinfectant, according to the PPHO report.

Contact tracing had confirmed two high-risk contacts in his accommodation and nine in the community, not including his taxi driver. Five entertainment venues in Patong were investigated, according to the report.

“All relevant departments have jointly followed closely to find the confirmed patient and we will provide more information later,” Major General Sermphan said.

Dr Weerasak Lorthongkham, Director of Vachira Phuket Hospital and Dr Kanokorn Lertlamyong, Infectious Diseases and Tropical Medicine Internal Medicine Specialist at Vachira Phuket Hospital, both pointed out today that the strain of monkeypox whose the man is infected is not the deadly version found in Central Africa.

“This strain comes from West Africa, which is a mild strain,” Dr Weerasak said, adding that the disease is linked to chickenpox.

People can contract the disease through contact with secretions or wounds of infected people, or by touching objects contaminated with secretions, he said.

“If anyone has a fever or a history of fever along with one or more of the symptoms, including sore throat, headache, body aches, back pain, enlarged lymph nodes and a rash, blisters or pustules, they should see a doctor to confirm if they are infected,” he said.

Phuket Deputy Governor Pichet Panapong said people can still travel to Phuket as normal as infections are generally not serious.

“People usually recover on their own after being infected in two to four weeks,” he said.

“I want to emphasize that it does not spread as easily as COVID-19,” he added.

* UPDATE: Officials have confirmed more details of the search for the missing Nigerian.

The man entered Thailand on a non-immigrant education visa. His visa allowed him to stay until January 18. The man told authorities he was going to study in Chiang Mai but came to Phuket instead, where he stayed at a condo project in Kathu.

The man presented to Bangkok Hospital Phuket last Saturday (July 16) with blisters on his skin and genitals. He was treated on an outpatient basis and told to return to his accommodation and self-quarantine.

On Monday (July 18), police went to visit the Condo man in Kathu, but found he was no longer staying there. He had left the condo around 7 p.m. to go to Patong.

On Tuesday July 19, the man failed to show up for a doctor’s appointment at Vachira Phuket Hospital for follow-up treatment for what was already suspected to be monkeypox. Attempts to contact him failed because his phone was switched off.

The man was found at the Patong Princess Hotel on Wednesday July 20, where he was seen entering a white sedan, believed to be a taxi around 9pm.

Police confirmed that the car he was traveling in passed through Kalim, Kamala and Cherng Talay. It was unclear whether the man returned to the airport.

However, Phuket Provincial Police Commander Major General Sermphan said he now believed the man was no longer in Phuket.

Health officials have identified 17 high-risk contacts. Initially, the first group of seven people were found to be infected, while the other 10 are awaiting results and have been quarantined to monitor symptoms.

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