Since the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the monkeypox virus (MPXV) a global health emergency, questions surrounding the relevance and risk factors of the monkeypox virus are now being asked throughout communities nationwide.
Here we uncover everything you need to know about how the virus is transmitted and the recommended safety measures to reduce your risk of infection.
What is monkeypox (MPXV)?
Although monkeypox (MPXV) presents with similar symptoms to smallpox, this orthopoxvirus is classed as a less severe illness, with most people recovering within a few weeks to a month.
As a zoonosis disease, the infection was initially transmitted from animals to humans. Once someone becomes infected, however, the virus can be passed on from person to person, as a sexually transmissible infection or under circumstances of very close contact.
Despite the fact that monkeypox is considered to be less severe than smallpox, MPXV symptoms can be extremely painful, with an acute skin rash causing blistering lesions on the surface of the skin.
A polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test or direct skin swab from lesions or sores is the most effective way to diagnose the virus.
How many cases of monkey pox are in Australia?
At the time of writing, Australian health authorities have confirmed there have been 44 monkeypox cases reported around the country. Contact tracing has shown the majority of these cases have been linked to returning international travellers.
As a sexually transmitted disease spreading through skin to skin contact, it’s crucial to understand the symptoms and how best to keep yourself and your sexual partners safe.
The Chief Medical Officer released a statement declaring monkeypox “a communicable disease incident of national significance”, urging people to seek medical advice immediately if they experience any MPXV symptoms or have been in close contact with someone who has the virus.
What are the symptoms of monkeypox?
An infected person with monkeypox is likely to present with a severe fever during the initial stages of infection, followed by the development of swollen lymph nodes and an unusual rash that worsens into painful lesions or sores.
Although there are some similar characteristics between monkeypox cases and other viral infections (such as measles, chickenpox and bacterial skin lesions), it’s important to distinguish the monkeypox virus from these other illnesses, to better understand how we may minimise the spread of the current outbreak.
The lengthy incubation period for the virus, ranging between 5 and 21 days, makes it easier for people to unknowingly spread the disease from person to person, through skin to skin contact.
How does monkeypox spread?
Although transmission through intimate contact is becoming an increasing concern during the current outbreak, monkeypox can also spread through contact with lesions or sores and, in some cases, from a person with a respiratory virus, as droplets are expelled into the air.
New modes of transmission and skin to skin contact
Initially, the virus was spread through Central and West Africa, with symptoms overseas developing after contact with infected wild animals.
As monkeypox became a multi country outbreak, reports have shown it to be one of the most concerning sexually transmitted infections, as the number of cases continue to rise.
A leading expert in monkeypox from WHO revealed that contact tracing now shows that 99% of all cases in non endemic countries were found in men. Additionally 98% these cases can be attributed to men who have sex with men. In North America and Europe, the current outbreak has be linked to close physical contact that occurred at sex parties and raves in Spain and Belgium.
Who is at risk of monkeypox?
Although the initial monkeypox cases reported outbreaks in foreign countries, such as Central and West Africa, public health alerts from the WHO have now revealed that the virus has spread to non endemic countries, such as Australia.
Despite the fact of it being a rare disease in this country, certain groups of people are more vulnerable to the virus and should seek medical care immediately if they show signs of being infected.
Health workers, people with compromised immune systems and some members of gender-diverse communities are likely to have an increased risk of being in contact with someone who is an infected person.
High risk factors for gay, bisexual and gender-diverse communities
According to the WHO, local health authorities have reported some of the more recent cases being found in communities of bisexual, gay, transgender and other men who have sex with men. Due to the context of the current outbreak, the WHO has advised that gender-diverse people may be at a higher risk for transmitting the infection through intimate physical contact.
It is important to understand that the monkeypox virus can affect people of all ages, sexual orientations, genders and race.
How do you protect against monkeypox?
If you believe that you may have been in contact with someone who has monkeypox, it’s crucial that you self isolate to reduce the chance of further spreading the infection. Monkeypox initially presents with symptoms of fever and muscle aches, so if you experience these conditions, seek advice from your doctor immediately.
Studies from the WHO show that the smallpox vaccine is approximately 85% effective in preventing monkeypox. With this in mind, people who have previously received the smallpox vaccine are likely to experience milder symptoms if they contract the monkeypox virus.
With the most recent contact tracing revealing a strong correlation between sexual contact and spreading of the virus, using safe practices when engaging with sexual partners is important to limit the spread of the monkeypox virus.
How long does it take to recover from the monkeypox virus?
Although people develop varying symptoms of monkeypox, the virus is commonly known to conform to a distinct timeline following initial infection.
Incubation period and febrile stage
While the incubation period ranges from 5 to 21 days, the preliminary symptoms of monkeypox are seen in the febrile stage, which lasts approximately 1 to 3 days. During this febrile stage, patients will experience headaches, painful muscle aches, swollen lymph nodes and extreme fatigue.
Severe skin rashes are the most visible sign of the illness, which occur directly after the febrile stage, with this stage of the illness lasting anywhere between a few weeks to a month.
Overall recovery time
Monkeypox is generally considered to be a mild illness, with most patients recovering within 2 to 4 weeks. Some higher risk cases, however, may require additional medical attention and the services of a health care professional, monitoring the condition closely to ensure the MPXV symptoms do not become critical.
How is monkeypox treated?
An antiviral agent developed as part of the smallpox vaccination has now been licensed for treatment with the monkeypox vaccine.
Simple pain medicines
In most cases, treatment for MPXV is supportive in nature, dependent on the symptoms. For the treatment of muscle aches, headaches and fever, simple pain medicines are generally prescribed.
Avoid contact and self isolate
The best treatment for monkeypox is to raise awareness regarding how the virus is spread, avoid contact with people who may be carriers and to self isolate and seek medical attention immediately if you do become infected.
Why is it emerging now?
Director-General of the World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared monkeypox as a “global health emergency”, the highest level of alert given by the organisation to the most serious diseases. The reason for the designation of this title may be linked to how rapidly MPXV is spreading globally, as new modes of transmission continue to be identified.
While the virus may have started out being transmitted from infected animals to humans, it can now be passed on from person to person via skin to skin contact and as a sexually transmissible infection.
If you have concerns regarding sexual contact or possible exposure to MPXV, start a conversation with a Stagger doctor or contact your local sexual health clinic for more information.
Australian Government, Department of Health and Aged Care. (2022) Chief Medical Officer’s statement declaring monkeypox a Communicable Disease Incident of National Significance. (https://www.health.gov.au/news)
NBC Chicago. (2022). How is Monkeypox Transmitted? Here’s How and Where the Virus is Spreading. (https://www.nbcchicago.com/news/local/how-is-monkeypox-transmitted-heres-how-and-where-the-virus-is-spreading/2899765/)
World Health Organisation. (2022) Monkeypox: public health advice for gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men. (https://www.who.int/news/item/25-05-2022-monkeypox–public-health-advice-for-gay–bisexual-and-other-men-who-have-sex-with-men)