As the country learns to live with COVID, another contagious disease has landed on Australia’s shores.
On Friday, NSW and Victorian health authorities identified two cases of monkeypox in travelers recently returning from Europe.
In Victoria, a man in his thirties diagnosed with monkeypox after flying home from the UK isolates himself from the community while contact tracing is underway.
NSW Health has also identified a “probable” case of monkeypox in a traveler in his 40s who recently returned from Europe.
Confirmatory tests are underway as the man and a household contact isolate at home.
The disease has spread across Europe and North America in recent weeks. David Tscharke, head of the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases at the Australian National University, said it was “almost inevitable” that Australia would see cases.
What is monkeypox?
Monkeypox is a rare viral infection caused by the monkeypox virus, an animal virus that occasionally infects humans.
It is mostly found in areas of tropical rainforest in Central and West Africa.
A respiratory virus, patients usually suffer from:
Fever Swollen lymph nodes Rash Chills Muscle aches Back pain Exhaustion
A rash, or what the World Health Organization (WHO) calls a “skin rash,” usually begins within one to three days of a fever.
It tends to focus on the face, palms, soles, and skin in the mouth. The genitals and eyes can also suffer from a rash.
The rash ranges from macules (lesions with a flat base) to papules (slightly raised firm lesions), vesicles (lesions filled with clear fluid), pustules (lesions filled with yellowish liquid), and crusts that dry up and fall off.
Evolution of a monkeypox rash. Photo: AAP
This disease is usually self-limiting, meaning it goes away on its own without treatment, usually within two to four weeks.
However, some people with monkeypox can become seriously ill, while others may be asymptomatic.
In Central and West African countries – where the virus is endemic – monkeypox is spread through interaction with animals (usually rodents) or consumption of wild game.
Human-to-human transmission of monkeypox occurs through close contact (such as skin-to-skin contact or body fluids), respiratory transmission, and communication with infected surfaces (such as contaminated clothing, towels, or furniture).
There seem to be many cases among men who have had sex with men, particularly in the UK and Portugal.
University of NSW Kirby Institute Biosecurity Program head Raina MacIntyre said this is not a trend seen before with the virus.
Should Australians be concerned about monkeypox?
Health experts said monkeypox is not a new disease, does not spread easily, and is rarely fatal.
Paul Griffin, director of Infectious Diseases at Mater Health Services, said low death and transmission rates and readily available vaccines mean people don’t “overreact.”
The WHO says the smallpox vaccine is about 85 percent effective against monkeypox and can lead to milder cases.
However, this does not mean that mass vaccination is necessary.
“The best strategy is to identify contacts and vaccinate them, rather than mass vaccination,” said Dr. MacIntyre.
“This is called ‘ring vaccination,’ and was used to eradicate smallpox.”
Asymptomatic cases of monkeypox are not very likely to transmit the virus.
“We know that smallpox is not transmitted in asymptomatic people, so monkeypox is unlikely to be very different,” said Dr. MacIntyre.
She said studies are currently underway in the UK to confirm this theory.
What happened abroad?
Monkeypox has appeared in European and North American countries in recent weeks.
The first case in the UK was reported on May 7, after a traveler returned from Nigeria, which has had 241 confirmed cases of monkeypox since 2017.
There are now nine confirmed cases in the UK.
On May 18, the US reported a case of monkeypox involving a traveler returning from Canada. America had two different points of monkeypox in 2021.
Canada currently has two confirmed cases and is investigating 17 suspected cases.
Other countries with confirmed cases of monkeypox include but are not limited to Spain, Portugal, France, Italy, Sweden, and Cameroon.
What do doctors tell me to do?
Victoria’s Department of Health said anyone who develops symptoms, especially if they have recently traveled abroad or been in contact with a case, should seek care at the nearest hospital.
Before going to the hospital, wear a mask and call ahead to ensure you can isolate yourself from others.
Passengers on the next flights taken by the confirmed Melbourne case are urged to check for symptoms and isolate if symptoms develop:
Flight EY10 departed London on May 14 and landed in Abu Dhabi at 0615. Flight EY462 departed Abu Dhabi on May 15 and landed in Melbourne at 0545 on May 16.
NSW Health has not released flight details of the likely Sydney case.