Date published: 20 May 2022
Media type: Statement
Audience: General public
The Australian Government has been closely monitoring the evolving situation regarding cases of monkeypox virus internationally.
The National Incident Centre has been activated to support the national response after Victoria and New South Wales both confirmed a case today.
The confirmed cases are both in returned travellers – one travelled to the United Kingdom and the other through Europe.
The Victorian Department of Health and New South Wales Health are responding to the cases and working to rapidly identify contacts.
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.
Internationally, cases have been reported in the United Kingdom, Spain, Portugal, France, the Canary Islands, the United States and Canada. Local transmission is thought to have occurred as the majority of the cases have not travelled to areas where the virus is endemic.
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, though it can spread through direct intimate contact during sex.
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.
The virus is mostly transmitted to humans via infected animals, such as primates or rodents, however human-to-human transmission does occur.
Human-to-human transmission of monkeypox can occur through close contact with lesions on the skin, body fluids including respiratory droplets, and contaminated materials such as bedding. Transmission via respiratory droplets usually requires prolonged face-to-face contact. Transmission can occur between sexual partners, through intimate contact during sex, with infectious skin lesions being the likely mode of transmission.
It is important to note that significant close contact with an infected person who is displaying symptoms is usually required for transmission. This means that, with good community awareness, transmission is likely to be localised, readily identified and able to be contained.
Investigations are ongoing as to the precise nature of transmission during this outbreak.
While there are currently no specific treatments available for monkeypox infection, outbreaks can be controlled. As monkeypox is similar to smallpox, 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.
The department is coordinating the necessary approaches for both potential vaccination and treatments for high-risk people in collaboration with states and territories.
Australian travellers 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.
Signs of infection include fever, a distinctive vesicular rash which can occur on any part of the body including the face, and swollen lymph nodes. 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.
Monkeypox is usually a self-limited disease with the symptoms lasting from 2 to 4 weeks, however severe cases can occur, including death in rare instances. Effective treatments are available in Australia so early diagnosis is important.
Monkeypox virus is not currently a nationally notifiable disease in Australia, however international incidents such as these are monitored by the CDNA and AHPPC, which includes communicable disease experts and Chief Health Officers and other representatives from jurisdictional health departments.
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. 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.