Australia’s top doctor has weighed in after the inevitable was confirmed – monkeypox has reached our shores.
On Friday, Acting Chief Medical Officer Dr Sonya Bennett said the Australian Government has been “closely monitoring the evolving situation regarding cases of monkeypox virus internationally”.
In the video above: How contagious is monkeypox?
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“The National Incident Center has been activated to support the national response,” she said.
“The Communicable Diseases Network Australia (CDNA) and the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) have met and will continue to meet to monitor the situation.”
So far, Australia has recorded two cases – a man in his 40s in New South Wales and another man in his 30s in Victoria. Both are in isolation – one at home, and the other at The Alfred in a stable condition.
Both are returned travellers, with one traveling from the United Kingdom and the other through Europe.
Contact tracing has also begun, with all of their close contacts being asked to monitor for symptoms and isolate if they develop them.
As a precaution, passengers seated near one of the men onboard flight EY10 from London to Abu Dhabi on May 14 and flight EY462 from Abu Dhabi to Melbourne, which landed at 5.45am on May 16, have been asked to do the same.
What we know
Monkeypox, also known as MPX/MPXV, is a rare viral zoonotic disease that occurs primarily in tropical rainforest areas of Central and West Africa and is occasionally exported to other regions.
It is considered endemic in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where it was first discovered in humans in 1970.
The virus is mostly transmitted to humans via infected animals, such as primates or rodents, however, human-to-human transmission can occur through respiratory droplets, close bodily contact with lesions on the skin or sharing contaminated linens or objects.
In recent weeks, cases have been reported in the United Kingdom, Spain, Portugal, France, the Canary Islands, the United States and Canada. It’s believed the cases spread via local transmission, given the majority have not traveled to areas where the virus is endemic.
The virus usually starts with flu-like symptoms, such as fever, headaches, muscle aches and exhaustion before it causes a distinctive vesicular rash that can occur on any part of the body including the face, and swollen lymph nodes.
Symptoms typically last from two to four weeks, however, severe cases can occur, including death in rare instances.
Transmission can also occur between sexual partners through direct intimate contact during sex with infectious skin lesions being the likely mode of transmission.
It prompted NSW-based sexual health organization ACON to urge gay, bisexual and men who have sex with men to remain vigilant and follow health advice.
“It’s important we remember that viruses do not discriminate,” said ACON CEO Nicholas Parkhill on Friday, “we particularly urge those who attended dance parties, sex parties or saunas in Europe to be vigilant for compatible symptoms.”
Bennett said that whilst a number of the recently identified cases have self-reported as gay, bisexual, or other men who have sex with men – “monkeypox has not been described as a sexually transmitted disease”.
There is some good news.
Bennett said significant close contact with an infected person with symptoms was usually required for transmission to occur – so, in theory, with good community awareness, transmission is likely to be localised, readily identified and able to be contained.
Alfred Health infectious diseases physician Professor Allen Cheng agreed that while “there are always emerging infections, on the scale of emerging infections – this is not COVID”.
“This is not anywhere near as transmissible, we do need to have a public health response and it needs to be proportionate, but beyond contact tracing and public health measures, it doesn’t really have implications for the rest of us at this stage. “
While there are currently no specific treatments available for monkeypox infection, outbreaks can be controlled, Bennett said.
“As monkeypox is similar to smallpox, the smallpox vaccine can also protect people from getting monkeypox.
“It is also thought that antiviral treatments for smallpox may also be effective for treating monkeypox.”
Australian travelers returning from, or going to, countries where cases have been identified, are urged to be aware of the signs of infection and to seek medical help if they think they may be at risk.
People who have recently returned from overseas, or who have been in contact with a case in Australia, and who develop any of these symptoms should seek medical advice immediately.
“States and territories are alerting clinicians to be on the lookout for potential cases and to report any cases to their relevant state and territory authorities urgently so that a public health response can be activated,” Bennett added.
“Post-exposure prophylaxis can be effective in preventing or modifying disease contacts if provided soon after exposure.
“The Australian Government will continue to monitor the situation and provide regular updates.”