The first case of monkeypox was identified in Australia in May 2022, soon after the current outbreak was first reported in Europe. While the number of confirmed cases in Australia have remained low - currently it's about 50 - that's likely to increase if we follow the experience of other countries.
Concerned by the government's apparent complacency, LGBTQ community groups are urging the Australian government to approve and secure supplies of the monkeypox vaccine and offer it to gay, bisexual and men who have sex with men and other at risk individuals.
The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) had in June 2022 recommended the use of ACAM2000 vaccine “for post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) or pre-exposure prophylaxis in individuals with high risk of exposure to and/or severe outcomes from monkeypox virus”.
The newer vaccine Jynneos had received approval in the US in 2019 for small pox and monkeypox, but is yet to be approved by ATAGI.
As we have seen from the beginning of this outbreak, the World Health Organisation has confirmed that the majority of cases continue to be detected within men who have sex with men. Monkeypox is not a Sexually Transmitted Infection but it is spread by close or intimate contact and sex is a really effective way for Monkeypox to spread. There’s nothing about Monkeypox that limits it to men who have sex with men, it’s just that we’re the demographic that it’s made initial contact with.
What is Monkeypox?
The name “monkeypox” comes from the first documented cases of the illness, in 1958, when two outbreaks occurred in colonies of monkeys kept for research.
But monkeys aren’t major carriers. Instead, the virus is generally spread by squirrels, pouched rats, dormice or another rodent.
How do you catch Monkeypox?
Primarily, from an animal bite, scratch or contact with the animal’s bodily fluid. Then the virus can spread to other people through coughing and sneezing or contact with pus from the lesions.
Symptoms are likely to appear somewhere between 5-21 days after exposure to the virus.
The lesions from monkeypox are similar to those from a smallpox infection.
It’s previously been thought that transmission of Monkeypox between people was a very low risk but this current outbreak appears to be spreading very effectively between people.
Health experts are speculating that the end of vaccination programs against Smallpox has left us vulnerable to a Monkeypox outbreak.
How dangerous is Monkeypox?
Monkeypox can be a nasty illness – it causes fever, body aches, enlarged lymph nodes and, eventually, painful, fluid-filled blisters on the face, hands and feet. One version of monkeypox is quite deadly and kills up to 10% of people infected. The version currently being detected from this cluster is milder. Its fatality rate is less than 1%. A case generally resolves in two to four weeks.
If you have it, you’ll probably need to isolate at home until you’ve recovered.
What should I do if I think I might have been exposed to Monkeypox?
If you notice any unusual rashes or lesions, and you think you might have been exposed to the virus through sexual contact, then contact your local sexual health service for advice.