Thu | Nov 30, 2023

Monkeypox escapee could face $500,000 fine, jail time

Man recaptured hours after fleeing isolation facility

Published:Sunday | July 10, 2022 | 12:10 AMCorey Robinson and Mark Titus - Sunday Gleaner Writers
The May Pen Hospital in Clarendon.
The May Pen Hospital in Clarendon.
File Photos
Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton.
File Photos Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton.
A file image provided by US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows the right arm and torso of a patient, whose skin displayed a number of lesions due to what had been an active case of monkeypox.
A file image provided by US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows the right arm and torso of a patient, whose skin displayed a number of lesions due to what had been an active case of monkeypox.

The monkeypox patient who yesterday fled the May Pen Hospital, where he was under mandatory isolation in Clarendon, could face criminal charges for breaches of the Quarantine Act. The man was subsequently found and returned to the hospital hours...

The monkeypox patient who yesterday fled the May Pen Hospital, where he was under mandatory isolation in Clarendon, could face criminal charges for breaches of the Quarantine Act.

The man was subsequently found and returned to the hospital hours later.

Official reports are that, shortly after noon, the patient left through a bathroom window at the facility. He reportedly had a car parked on the premises as he plotted his escape, parts of which captured by surveillance cameras.

“It is now a police matter. A quarantine order was issued for the patient and so he is in breach of that quarantine order. Therefore, the police are now doing their investigation and follow-up,” Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton told The Sunday Gleaner while the search was ongoing.

Tufton said that sleuths yesterday visited the premises where the man was staying prior to turning up at a healthcare facility on July 5, when he was confirmed with the illness. The diagnosis was made five days after he arrived in the island.

Late yesterday afternoon, Tufton confirmed that the man had been found and was back in isolation.

“This is a case of an individual who clearly was premeditated in their act and, no matter what laws are in place, they actively planned to do what they wanted to do,” he continued. “The person went to the restroom, dislodged a window and escaped via the window.

“This person does not reside in Jamaica, they reside in England and I’m not sure if they were trying to make their way back there,” he reasoned, adding that the island’s air and sea ports were on alert if he tried to return.

Healthcare workers told The Sunday Gleaner that the patient said he wanted to enjoy his vacation in Jamaica after spending so much money to fly here.

“He said that he is not going to spend so much money and not enjoy himself, and he told them (other patients) that, by 10 a.m., he was gonna leave the hospital and he has already called his ride. He is selfish, stay bad, and he is inconsiderate,” said a nurse at the hospital.

Yesterday, the police declined to give specifics of the arrest for fear of discrimination against the patient’s family or community.

They would only say he was picked up in the company of relatives.

Anton-Gur Cardoza, deputy superintendent at the May Pen Police Station, said its not yet clear whether the man would be charged.

“We have to do more due diligence as to what specifically was the case. We don’t know what specific order, if any, was truly in place,” said Cardoza. “We will just have to do our investigation to see what obtains. Once we investigate and find that these things were issued, then we can take it from there.”

Under the Quarantine Act, any person who “refuses or wilfully omits” to do any act which he is required to do or carry out a lawful order can be found guilty of an offence and fined $500,000 or sentenced to six months’ imprisonment at hard labour or both the fine and prison term.

Cardoza said that none of the police officers were compromised during the apprehension, which was executed primarily by healthcare representatives.

“ We went with persons from the hospital and so they are the ones who physically held on to him and placed him in a waiting ambulance. At no point did the police come in physical contact with him,” he said.

Meanwhile, Jamaica Medical Doctors Association President Dr Mindi Fitz-Henley questioned the patient’s mental capacity and his impetus for evading the authorities.

“I think punishment for his action is more for the legal minds, but we need to establish his competency level and what would have driven him to make such a decision,” she told The Sunday Gleaner.

“We also have to be concerned about the public’s welfare, and while I don’t have any details on the matter, our contact tracers would need to find out the persons he would have made contact with,” she continued.

“Were they wearing protective gear? Was anyone else present at the home he was found in? Could it be that we have moved from one patient to many more?” she quizzed

Monkeypox is a disease caused by the monkeypox virus. It is a viral zoonotic disease, meaning it can spread from animals to humans and also between people, the World Health Organization (WHO) notes.

Symptoms include fever, intense headache, muscle and back pain, low energy, swollen lymph nodes and a skin rash or lesions, which can number from a few to several thousand on each person.

Jamaica became the second CARICOM country behind St Lucia to report a case last week after the virus began spreading outside of sections of Africa, where it was endemic, first popping up in the United States and Europe in early May. The virus has been detected in more than 50 countries in the latest outbreak.

Tufton has stressed that, with one confirmed case locally so far, the emphasis is on educating the population about protection and ensuring adequate measures to detect, isolate and treat cases.

The reported case should not stop people from living their lives, he told The Sunday Gleaner, noting that no lockdowns were on the horizon to curtail a possible spread of monkeypox.

“The guidance is to provide information to people so they know the nature of the virus, the impact, signs and symptoms. The health team who manages border entry at the ports has been sensitised and they would know what to look out for and questions to ask,” said Tufton as he urged Jamaicans to remain calm.

The health minister said that contact tracing was being done surrounding the detected case and that close relatives and friends are of particular interest. Those persons have been quarantined, while tracing is still on for others who may have come in contact with the ill individual.

Tufton also noted that there is no vaccine authorised to treat monkeypox, although some countries have been administering doses of the smallpox vaccine, which they believe gives some immunity to monkeypox.

Last Friday, Fitz-Henley msaid the JMDA’s 700-member-strong membership of public and private practitioners is prepared to deal with the emerging monkeypox threat.

The onus, however, is on the public to play its part, she said.

“The minister of health, in May, hosted a few lectures on monkeypox and additional information is being shared with members as well as surveillance and management on how we will proceed,” said Fitz-Henley. “We have been going through a lot in the last two and a half years, and so public health is not new to Jamaica. We stand ready to deal with this as it comes.”

Noting that the virus is highly contagious, she urged members of the public who suspect that they have been infected to call ahead so that doctors and nurses can be adequately prepared before visiting. Failing to do so may put healthcare workers and other patients at risk, she noted. Nonetheless, once people find that they are experiencing symptoms, they should not hesitate to seek help, she urged.

The JMDA president said studies have shown the virus on toilet seats and that victims with monkeypox bumps on their skin can easily spread the virus through skin contact. Such patients should cover the affected area with gauze.

Meanwhile, Dr Delroy Fray, whose private practice has been battling respiratory illnesses such as COVID-19, said monkeypox is similar to the flu but with skin blisters.

“It is a virus that is self-limiting and has a duration course of between four and two weeks. But, once you see blisters, please stay at home because, once the blisters are opened, it is easily transmitted,” said Fray.

He is confident that, if the protocols established during the COVID-19 pandemic are observed, the virus will be easily managed locally.

“We don’t really need to worry about monkeypox if we are going to be very disciplined in our approach. It is the same approach that we have been hammering for COVID-19: wear your mask and if you have flu-like symptoms, stay at home and minimise close contact with people,” said Fray, who is also the clinical coordinator of the Western Regional Health Authority.

Monkeypox, he further pointed out, is treated just like the flu with a lot of fluids and vitamins. If the sores get infected, then antibiotics are recommended.

In the meantime, president of the St James Taxi Association, Dion Chance, is fearful that, like COVID-19, monkeypox could ruin the livelihood of members of the industry.

“This is like reliving the COVID experience all over again. The good thing, however, is that we have learned that it is not as devastating as COVID-19. All we can do is be extra careful and ensure that we stay updated with the information from the Ministry of Health,” said Chance.