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Monkeypox Virus (MPXV)

The situation with monkeypox virus (MPXV) is changing quickly. Whilst international travellers need to be aware of what monkeypox is and how it is spread, there have also been cases acquired locally so it’s time for everyone to become familiar with monkeypox.

While monkeypox virus (aka MPV or MPXV) is endemic in Central and West Africa, there has been a recent increase in cases reported in Europe and North America. Typically cases of MPXV found outside of Africa are amongst returned travellers; however, local transmission is suspected to have occurred among recent international cases. A large portion of these recent cases have been identified amongst gay, bisexual, and men who have sex with men.

Our weekly radio show on JOY 94.9 Well, Well, Well recently spoke to The Doherty Institute for the latest on the virus.

Listen to the podcast

What is it?

Monkeypox virus (MPXV) is a viral infection that occurs primarily in tropical rainforest areas of Central and West Africa. It typically begins with flu-like illness and swelling of the lymph nodes before progressing to a rash on the face and/or body. MPXV is usually a self-limited infection with the symptoms lasting from 2 to 4 weeks.

How do you get?

MPXV is transmitted from one person to another by close contact with skin lesions, respiratory droplets, body fluids, or recently contaminated materials such as bedding. Respiratory transmission usually requires prolonged face-to-face contact.

While MPXV is not specifically a sexually transmitted infection (STI), direct contact during sex and/or with the clothing or linens used by a person with MPXV poses a risk of transmission.

What are the symptoms?

Initial symptoms of MPXV include fever, headache, chills, muscle aches, exhaustion, and swollen lymph nodes.

Within a few days of initial symptoms, a distinctive blistering rash (or lesion) can develop, often beginning on the face, then spreading to other parts of the body including arms, legs or in (some cases) the genitals or anus. The rash changes and goes through different stages, like chickenpox, before finally becoming a scab. 

The incubation period typically varies from 6 – 13 days from exposure but may be up to 21 days. 

MPXV is usually a 'self-limiting illness' - meaning recovery occurs without treatment within 2-4 weeks.

How do you treat it?

Many people have a mild self-limiting illness and most recover within 2-4 weeks without specific treatment. There are some therapies available for the treatment of MPXV, particularly for people at high-risk (such as those who are immunosuppressed).

Being that MPXV is closely related to the virus that causes smallpox, the smallpox vaccine has been shown to protect people from getting MPXV. Vaccines may be indicated for people at high risk.

What can we do to prevent it?

You can reduce your risk of contracting MPXV by:

  • Avoiding contact, including sexual contact, with people who are unwell or have compatible symptoms.
  • Avoiding skin-to-skin contact, particularly with any rash or lesions.
  • Avoiding contact with clothing, bedding or objects that have been in contact with or used by people with MPXV.
  • Undertaking good hand hygiene practices.

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

Anyone who develops symptoms, in particular people who have recently travelled overseas, are being urged to call:

For more information, head to the Better Health Channel: www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/monkeypox

While international travellers need to monitor for symptoms - everyone needs to be aware of MPXV and how it is spread.

If you have recently returned from overseas...

People who have recently returned from overseas, have attended any dance parties, sex parties or saunas - and who develop any symptoms, particularly an unusual rash or swollen lymph nodes, should seek medical advice immediately.

You should stay at home and remain isolated until given further advice by your treating doctor. If you are presenting to a clinic or emergency department, call to let them know you are attending, wear a mask, on arrival inform the reception staff and wait to be isolated until seen.

MPXV can be transmitted to pets. If you are isolating and experiencing symptoms, it is recommended that you isolate away from any pets.

MPXV can also be transmitted via clothing and other materials, so it is recommended that you wash all clothing items, towels, and sex toys that you took overseas.

The MPXV rash can appear at multiple sites across the body. It is suggested that you check your genital areas for any new spots and lesions and seek medical advice immediately.

If you are planning to travel overseas...

If you are planning to travel overseas, it is important to stay informed and remain aware of developments. The situation with MPXV is changing rapidly.

  • Follow public health alerts and advice from local health authorities of the countries you are visiting.
  • If visiting festivals or large events, keep alert of any event updates (before and after) from organisers.

Be aware and exercise caution if you plan to attend any large scale pride events, sex parties or SOPVs, particularly in places where there are identified cases of MPXV.

Why are cases of MPXV being detected among gay & bisexual men?

A large number of cases detected overseas are among gay, bisexual or other men who have sex with men. One reason for this is their active health seeking behaviour around sexual health. Because MPXV rashes can resemble some STIs, such as herpes or syphilis, cases are being detected in sexual health clinics around the world.

It’s important to note that the risk of MPXV is not limited to gay, bisexual, or men who have sex with men. Anyone who has close contact with someone who is infectious is at risk.

Stigmatising people because of a disease is never okay. Anyone can get or pass on MPXV regardless of their sexuality.

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

There is very limited evidence on MPXV in people living with HIV. At the moment, people living with HIV should follow the same advice as the general population.

Should evidence emerge that people with supressed immune systems are at greater risk of MPXV, then updated information and advice will be made available.

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