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What is monkeypox?

Monkeypox (MPXV) is a rare viral infection that is transmitted to humans from animals. It is endemic to Central and West Africa, typically in tropical rainforests but also increasingly more in urban areas.

MPXV does not spread easily between people but is possible.

What are the symptoms of monkeypox?

It usually takes 1-2 weeks from infection to beginning of symptoms, but can be up to 21 days.

Monkeypox typically begins with flu-like symptoms (headache, fever, muscle aches, low energy) and swollen lymph nodes.

It then progresses to a rash or lesions, usually within 1-3 days of the fever starting. It tends to concentrate on the face, arms and legs, but can be found all over the body.

Monkeypox symptoms usually last 2-4 weeks, but severe cases can occur.

How is monkeypox transmitted?

Monkeypox is transmitted through direct physical contact with someone who has symptoms (this could be human, but typically rodents and primates).

The rash, scabs and bodily fluids from lesions are especially infectious. If sores or lesions are present in the mouth, saliva can also be a transmission fluid.

Materials like clothing, bed linen or objects that have encounters with someone with monkeypox can also be infectious.

Monkeypox hasn’t been described as a sexually transmitted infection previously, but the close physical contact during sex can be a pathway for transmission.

How is monkeypox treated?

Most people experience mild self-limiting illness and recover in a few weeks without needing specific treatment.

People at high-risk like those who are immunosuppressed may have access to therapies. We encourage seeking advice from your local GP if you are concerned.

Because MPXV is closely related to the virus that causes smallpox, the smallpox vaccine can protect people from getting MPXV. Vaccines may be indicated in persons at greatest risk of getting MPXV. In some cases antiviral medications may be advised. Please seek advice from your local GP for more information on this.

Recent cases

There has been an increase of cases found outside the endemic resources recently, including cases in Europe and the United States. Two cases have also been reported in Australian, one in Victoria and in New South Wales.

With the confirmation of recent cases, most have not travelled to the regions, indicating no risk around community transmission at this stage. The majority of cases, including those in Australia are identified mostly in the men who have sex with men population.

People recently returning from overseas, who have attended any dance parties, sex parties or saunas, especially in Europe, and who develop any symptoms, particularly an unusual rash, should seek medical advice immediately.

Am I at greater risk if I’m HIV-positive?

Limited evidence on the effects MPXV has on people living with HIV, and most is based on research in countries where access to treatment is low, and experience far negative health outcomes than in Australia.

At the moment people living with HIV should follow the same advice as the general population.

As new information is made available by the Department of Health in this area, we will update this space regularly.

Why are cases of MPXV being detected among gay, bisexual and men who have sex with men?

A large number of cases detected overseas are among gay, bisexual and men who have sex with men. This population is often vigilant at seeking regular sexual health screening which could contribute to why it is being identified specifically in this cohort.

It’s important to note that the risk of MPXV is not limited to gay, bisexual and men who have sex with men. Anyone who has close contact with someone who is infectious is at risk. Anyone can get or pass on MPXV regardless of their sexuality.

If you have recently returned from overseas …

People who have recently returned from overseas, have attended any dance parties, sex parties or saunas – especially in Europe – and who develop any of these symptoms, particularly an unusual rash, should seek medical advice immediately.

NSW Health recommends anyone who has been to the following events or venues in Europe to look out for symptoms:

  • Gay Pride Maspalomas in Gran Canaria, Canary Islands, Spain (5-15 May)
  • Darklands Festival in Antwerp, Belgium (4-9 May)
  • Any saunas and SOPVs in Madrid, Spain in recent weeks

If you have symptoms, contact your GP or local sexual health clinic by phone or telehealth.

Remember: Do not attend a health service in the first instance – be sure to call ahead.

If you are planning to travel overseas …

If you are planning to travel overseas and attend any festival or parties, you can reduce your risk of contracting MPXV by avoiding close contact, including sexual contact, with people who have suspected or confirmed MPXV. Avoid skin-to-skin contact, particularly with any rash or lesions.

As always, practice good hygiene, self-isolate if unwell, and seek medical attention if you develop any symptoms.

Where can I get more information?

Here are some sources of information:

You can also call the NSW Sexual Health Infolink on 1800 451 624 for more information.