Disease type: 
Zoonoses
Vaccination available under NIP: 
No
Notifiable disease: 
Yes

Current case numbers

For the latest case numbers, visit the MPX health alert page.

About monkeypox or MPX

MPX is a viral zoonotic disease that occurs mostly in tropical rainforest areas of Central and West Africa but can spread to other regions. Zoonotic diseases can spread between animals and humans.

The monkeypox virus is part of the same family of viruses as variola virus which causes smallpox. It is a rare viral illness that can become serious. For most people, symptoms will clear up on their own after 2 to 4 weeks.

Since May 2022, there has been a global increase in MPX infections in multiple countries where the illness is not usually seen. MPX was first reported in Australia May 2022.

On 28 July 2022, Australia’s Chief Medical Officer declared monkeypox to be a Communicable Disease Incident of National Significance. The World Health Organization (WHO) declared the MPX outbreak a public health emergency of international concern on 23 July 2022.

Case definitions

Signs and Symptoms

MPX illness is usually mild and people typically recover within a few weeks.

Signs and symptoms of monkeypox infection can include:

  • a distinctive rash, lesions (bumps that turn into pimples, blisters or sores, and may burst to form ulcers or scabs)
  • swollen lymph nodes
  • fever
  • headache
  • muscle aches
  • joint pain
  • back pain
  • chills
  • exhaustion.

The rash changes and goes through different stages, before forming a scab and falling off. It can appear as lesions (pimples, blisters or sores, which can then burst to form ulcers or scabs). These can vary in size and number with as little as a single lesion to several thousand. The lesions look like blisters similar to chickenpox, but larger.

Typically, the rash starts on the face, including in the mouth, and spreads to other parts of the body including the hands, feet, and chest. In this outbreak, some people have reported a rash appearing in the genital and perianal regions without spreading to other areas of the body. Some people only experience this rash with no other symptoms. Other people have had anorectal pain with no other symptoms.   The rash can be painful, especially if the lesions join together or appear in the mouth or rectum.

Symptoms begin 5 to 21 days after exposure. You should seek medical advice straight away if you develop any of these symptoms after:

  • returning from overseas
  • being in contact with a case in Australia or overseas.

Transmission

A person with MPX is thought to be infectious from the time they develop any symptoms until all scabs have healed and a fresh layer of skin has formed.  This may take several weeks.

Transmission between people can occur through:

  • close contact with rashes, blisters or sores on the skin
  • body fluids, including respiratory droplets from coughing or sneezing
  • contaminated objects such as linen and towels.

Transmission through respiratory droplets (for example coughing or sneezing) is less common and usually only happens if there is prolonged face-to-face contact.

Although the virus is not a sexually transmitted infection (STI), transmission can occur through intimate physical contact during sex. In this case, it is likely that infectious skin rashes, blisters or sores are the mode of transmission.

The virus can also pass to the foetus via the placenta during pregnancy. 

Who is at risk

  • People who have had close physical contact with an MPX case
  • Australian travellers returning from, or going to, countries with confirmed cases

If you are in these groups and think you may be at risk, we urge you to be aware of the symptoms and to seek medical help straight away if you develop any of those symptoms. 

If infected, infants, young children, pregnant women and people who are immunocompromised are at higher risk of becoming severely unwell.

Prevention

There are a few measures people can take to help prevent infection: 

  • People who have MPX should isolate from others until the sores fully clear. 
  • Household members should avoid physical contact with the infected person. This includes any objects such as linen or towels that have been in contact with an infected person. 
  • Careful hand and respiratory hygiene are recommended for the infected person and everyone in the household. Wash hands with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser. 
  • If an infected person cannot isolate alone, they should wear a face mask when around other people. This includes when receiving medical care. 

For more information on the public health management of people with monkeypox, and on infection prevention and control for health workers, visit Monkeypox (MPX) resources.

Isolation

People with probable or confirmed MPX should immediately isolate until all blisters or sores have healed and a fresh layer of skin has formed to prevent further spread of the disease. If you are a suspected case, you should isolate until you return a negative result.

Healthcare providers with inpatients in acute settings with confirmed or probable MPX should isolate them in a room with a private bathroom.

For more information on the public health management of people with MPX, see the CDNA Monkeypox virus infection national guidelines for public health units.

For more information on infection prevention and control, see the ICEG interim guidance on Monkeypox for health workers.

Diagnosis

MPX is confirmed by laboratory testing.

If you think you may be infected, seek medical advice straight away.

Treatments and vaccines

Most people require no, or only supportive, treatment for MPX. This may include simple pain relief. Antiviral treatment may be needed in patients with more severe disease. Guidance on the use of treatments for MPX in Australia is available in the Monkeypox treatment guidelines.

Vaccines can be given either before or after a person is exposed to the virus, but before exposure is recommended for the best protection.

For more information on vaccines against MPX, visit Monkeypox (MPX) vaccines.

More vaccination information is available in the ATAGI clinical guidance on vaccination against Monkeypox.

Resources

Monkeypox (MPX) resources

These resources provide information about what MPX is, symptoms, treatment and prevention, vaccine guidance and how we are responding to the virus.

Last updated: 
4 August 2022