Monkeypox (MPX) is a disease caused by Monkeypox virus (MPXV), with symptoms similar to those seen previously with smallpox. It is spread through close contact with an infected person or animals, or with contaminated material. Find out more.
What is MPX?
MPX was first reported in Australia on 20 May 2022.
It is a rare but potentially serious viral illness, typically beginning with fever and swelling of the lymph nodes and may also include headache, muscle aches, joint pain and back pain.
A few days following fever, the characteristic rash usually appears on the face and then spreads to other parts of the body. It may also appear on the palms of hands and soles of the feet, inside the mouth, or on the genitalia.
It is usually a self-limited disease with the symptoms lasting from 2 to 4 weeks.
It is a viral zoonotic disease that occurs primarily in tropical rainforest areas of Central and West Africa and is occasionally exported to other regions.
Human-to-human transmission can occur through:
- close contact with lesions^ on the skin
- body fluids, including respiratory droplets
- contaminated materials such as linen and towels.
^ Blisters (vesicles) like you see with chickenpox, but larger and typically starting in the head and neck region rather than centrally in most patients, although direct skin contact may result in vesicles at the site of contact (skin spots or rash).
Transmission via respiratory droplets is less common and usually requires prolonged face-to-face contact.
Although the virus is not a sexually transmissible infection (STI), transmission can occur through intimate physical contact during sex, with infectious skin lesions being the likely mode of transmission.
The incubation period (interval from infection to onset of symptoms) of MPX is typically 7 and 14 days but can range from 5 to 21 days.
Symptoms of the infection can be divided into 2 periods:
- The illness begins with:
- swollen lymph nodes
- muscle aches
- joint pain
- back pain.
- A distinctive rash usually begins within one to 3 days of appearance of fever. The rash tends to be more concentrated on the face, arms, and legs rather than on the trunk and may also appear on the genitalia.
The rash may appear on the:
- face (in 95% of cases)
- palms of the hands and soles of the feet (in 75% of cases)
- inside of the mouth (in 70% of cases)
- genitalia (30%)
- eyes (20%).
The number of lesions varies from a few to several thousand.
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.
Who is at risk
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.
Infants, young children, pregnant women and people who are immunocompromised are more at risk of developing severe disease.
Human-to-human transmission of MPX can occur through contact with lesions, body fluids including respiratory secretions, and contaminated materials such as linen and towels. Transmission via respiratory droplets is less common and usually requires prolonged face to face contact.
Avoiding close contact with infected persons is the foremost effective way to prevent MPXV infection. Close contact activities may include sleeping in the same room or bed, living in the same household, or drinking or eating from the same dish as an infected person.
Treatments and vaccines
Australia has a vaccine and a treatment available and other options are being considered by states and territories.
Guidance on the use of vaccines and treatments for MPX in Australia is being developed by medical experts.
These therapeutics will be for prevention of infection after exposure, prevention of infection for those at risk, and treatment for those infected with MPXV.
It is also thought that antiviral treatments for smallpox may also be effective for treating Monkeypox.
MPX is confirmed through a combination of laboratory testing and clinical assessment.
If you think you may be infected seek urgent medical assistance.