One Australian man is in hospital after being diagnosed with monkeypox, while another is also suspected of being infected with the virus.
One of Australia’s top doctors has issued an urgent sex warning after killer virus monkeypox was found on our shores.
A Victorian man is in hospital after being diagnosed with monkeypox, while another in NSW is also suspected of being infected with the virus.
The Victorian case is linked to one of nine cases that have emerged in the UK, with some of them connected to the country’s gay and bisexual community.
NSW chief health officer Dr Kerry Chant urged gay men to be particularly vigilant.
“We know it’s transmitted by that close skin to skin contact – you can be infectious and that close droplet contact in a very sort of close prolonged way,” Dr Chant said.
“We’re particularly urging men who are gay or bisexual, or men who have sex with men, to be aware of any unusual rashes or lesions and to contact by phone a sexual health clinic or GP without delay if they have any concerns.
“It is important to be particularly vigilant if you returned from overseas from large parties or sex on premises venues overseas.
“You can imagine that some settings, such as sex on premises venues or other events and gatherings may lead to sort of what we’ve seen as super spreading events.
“It is important that people who have recently returned from Europe who attended such parties be particularly alert given the worldwide case reports today.”
Victorian chief health officer Brett Sutton said the man travelled from London, via Abu Dhabi, arriving home on Monday.
He said the man had developed symptoms prior to boarding the flight, then sought medical care almost immediately after arriving home.
“(He) had an extremely astute GP, who has thought of monkeypox and referred him for testing, which has led to early diagnosis, early isolation,” Dr Sutton told reporters.
The man is in a stable condition at The Alfred Hospital and is expected to make a full recovery.
“There are very few close contacts that have been identified. Obviously, the GP is one of them,” Dr Sutton said.
“We’ll be contacting individuals who are close contacts on the flight — so really in a couple of rows in front and behind — and then people who are on the entire flight, we are just asking to be aware of the symptoms that might occur.
“Those symptoms are flu like symptoms — they can be headache, fever, muscle aches and pains.”
Dr Sutton noted there would be people in Australia born after 1980 who would not be vaccinated against smallpox, which would protect them from monkeypox.
He said Australia should expect to see more cases emerge but did not expect border closures.
Meanwhile, NSW Health said a man aged in his 40s was another “probable case”, saying he had recently returned to Sydney from Europe.
He developed a mild illness several days after arriving home, then went to his GP with symptoms clinically compatible with monkeypox.
Urgent testing identified a probable case of monkeypox, with confirmatory testing underway.
He and his household contact are isolating at home.
NSW chief health officer Kerry Chant said authorities had issued a clinician alert to GPs and hospitals across the state.
“(NSW Health) has also been in contact with sexual health services to increase awareness of the cases identified overseas and to provide advice on diagnosis and referral,” she said.
“We will be speaking with GPs about this issue again today.”
Monkeypox is a rare viral infection that does not spread easily between people and is usually linked to travel to Central or West Africa.
“Cases are occasionally reported in non-endemic countries in returning travellers or their close contacts, or in owners of imported pets,” Dr Chant said.
“People can contract monkeypox through very close contact with people who are infected with the virus.
“The infection is usually a mild illness and most people recover within a few weeks.”
Monkeypox has been identified in several non-endemic countries in recent weeks, including several European countries and the United States.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said “of course” he was concerned.
“Our health authorities are monitoring that situation very closely. In the first instance, that’s been done by the state public health agencies,” he told reporters.
“There are treatments available. The advice I have is that it is a far less contagious condition than obviously Covid.
“While we should be taking this seriously, at the same time, I would say that no-one should be alarmed at this point.
“We’ve got the best health authorities in the world. That’s been demonstrated through Covid and those same authorities … are the same ones that are managing serious issues like this.”
Professor David Tscharke, the head of the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases at the Australian National University, said it was almost inevitable that Australia would eventually experience a case of monkeypox.
“The disease is caused by the monkeypox virus, which is endemic in various countries in Africa but has caused outbreaks elsewhere before,” he said.
“In Africa, people have become infected as a result of contact with infected animals, which includes a range of species including some rodents, not necessarily monkeys.
“In the past, these outbreaks into human populations have been limited because the spread of monkeypox between people is not very efficient.”
Monkeypox is part of a wider group of viruses and Prof Tscharke said the same vaccine used for smallpox could be used to protect against monkeypox.
“Studies suggest that the vaccine can even be effective when given after an exposure to the virus,” he said.
“This is now being done in a process referred to as ‘ring’ vaccination, where contacts are identified and vaccinated.
“The current epidemiology of monkeypox cases is unusual, because most cases are unlinked and will mean that vigilance is required across the world.”
But unlike Covid-19, this virus is better understood and methods to prevent spread can be actioned swiftly, he added.
Professor Raina MacIntyre, the head of the biosecurity program at the Kirby Institute and part of the WHO Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on smallpox and monkeypox, said research showed waning immunity from smallpox vaccination might be contributing to the increasing outbreaks of monkeypox.
“It is more than 40-50 years since mass vaccination ceased,” she said.
“Clusters have occurred among men who have sex with men — not a pattern seen before.
“This is an unusual outbreak, with unrelated cases in different locations in the UK, which has been speculated as being due to substantial numbers of asymptomatic infection also occurring.”
Prof MacIntyre said smallpox did not transmit in asymptomatic people, so it was unlikely monkeypox would be very different.