Monkeypox fact sheet
- Monkeypox is a rare viral disease that typically presents with fever, headache, body aches, and swollen lymph nodes followed by a characteristic rash with fluid-filled lesions.
- Monkeypox does not easily spread between people. It usually requires close, prolonged, skin to skin contact.
- Monkeypox can be transmitted from one person to another through skin-to-skin contact, contact with contaminated surfaces or items, or respiratory droplets.
- Since May 2022, there has been an outbreak of monkeypox affecting countries outside of endemic areas, including cases that have been reported in Australia.
- Individuals are advised to be vigilant toward the symptoms of monkeypox.
- If you develop symptoms, you are urged to seek medical care - call ahead to make sure you can be isolated away from others and make sure you wear a mask when attending the clinic or hospital.
What is monkeypox?
Monkeypox is a rare disease that is caused by infection with the monkeypox virus. Monkeypox is endemic in Central and West Africa.
Since May 2022, an increase in monkeypox cases has been reported in many non-endemic countries. Most of these cases did not report international travel to endemic countries indicating that there has been local community transmission.
A small number of cases have been reported in Australia. Most of these cases have been associated with overseas travel. However, there is also some evidence of local transmission. People need to be on alert for monkeypox symptoms now that local transmission may be occurring.
What are the symptoms?
The first symptoms of monkeypox usually appear 1-2 weeks after exposure to a person with monkeypox but can be between 5 to 21 days. Early symptoms include:
- Muscle aches
- Swollen lymph nodes
A few days after initial symptoms, a characteristic rash usually appears. The rash may begin in the mouth and on the face, then spreads to other parts of the body, commonly the extremities such as the palms of hands and soles of the feet. However, this pattern may not always occur. The rash may remain confined to smaller areas of skin including the genital and buttock areas.
The rash changes and goes through different stages. It typically begins as flat lesions or spots, developing through to the lesions filling with clear fluid (vesicles) and then to the lesions filling with yellowish pus like fluid (pustules) which then dry up, scab over and fall off.
The symptoms usually resolve by themselves within 2-4 weeks. Severe symptoms and complications are uncommon but can occur.
How is it spread?
Monkeypox does not usually spread easily between people. Spread requires close, prolonged contact. It does not spread via casual contact.
Person-to-person spread may occur through:
- Direct physical contact with the infectious rash, scabs or body fluids.
- Respiratory secretions during prolonged face to face contact or during intimate physical contact such as kissing, cuddling or sex.
- Contact with clothing or linen (such as bedding or towels) used by an infected person
In endemic areas, spread of monkeypox may occur when a person comes into close contact with the blood, bodily fluids, or lesions of infected animals (such as a rodents) or by eating meat from an infected animal, particularly wild game.
People with monkeypox are contagious from the time that they develop their first symptoms until after the lesions have dried, crusted, and fallen off (approximately two weeks).
Who is at risk?
Monkeypox is typically seen in those who have travelled from a country where monkeypox is endemic.
However, in the current outbreak, there appears to be transmission in Australia. Those who are at increased risk have had close, prolonged, or intimate contact with someone with monkeypox.
Young children, the elderly, pregnant people, people with multiple medical problems or weakened immune systems may be at higher risk.
The overall risk to the Australian community is very low.
How is it diagnosed?
Clinical history, examination, and a link to a suspected or confirmed case may lead a doctor to suspect monkeypox. The diagnosis can be confirmed in a laboratory by testing a swab of the rash or sores.
How is it treated?
Monkeypox is usually a mild illness with most people recovering within a few weeks. There are no specific treatments for monkeypox other than supportive measures such as pain medicines or other minor treatments to relieve symptoms.
Rarely, people may develop severe illness and need treatment in hospital. Antiviral medicines, intravenous fluids, and supportive medicines may be required for severe illness.
How is it prevented?
Several measures can be taken to prevent infection with monkeypox:
- People who have monkeypox are required to self-isolate from others until the rash has fully resolved.
- Avoid close skin to skin contact with people who are suspected or confirmed to have monkeypox virus infection, including items such as clothing, bedding, or linen that they have been in contact with.
- Staying vigilant with hygiene measures including washing hands with soap and water or alcohol-based sanitiser is important.
- Monitor for symptoms if you have recently returned from overseas and may have had contact with a case of monkeypox. Contact the CDPU (1800 671 738, press option 3) if you believe you have contact with a case of monkeypox.
- People travelling to endemic countries should avoid contact with sick or dead animals that could be infected with monkeypox virus (rodents, marsupials, primates) and should refrain from eating or handling wild game (bush meat).
The smallpox vaccine and antiviral medicine can be used to control outbreaks of monkeypox and may be given to suitable high-risk contacts after exposure to a case of monkeypox. They are most effective if administered early after exposure.
Vaccination (with the smallpox vaccine) can be used both before and after exposure and is up to 85% effective in preventing monkeypox. People vaccinated against monkeypox may experience a milder disease. The recommendation for vaccination should be discussed with the Communicable Diseases Prevention Unit.
If you develop monkeypox symptoms, and particularly if you develop a rash along with a fever and swollen lymph nodes, you should seek medical care. Call your GP or hospital to let them know you will be attending and have concerns about monkeypox. If you have a rash or blisters, make sure these are covered by clothing or dressings. Wear a mask when outside your home or if unable to isolate from others in your home. Avoid close contact with others, including sexual activity.
Stay vigilant with hygiene measures including washing hands with soap and water or using an alcohol-based sanitiser often.
What should I do if I have contact with someone who has monkeypox?
If you have had contact with someone who has monkeypox, please call the Communicable Diseases Prevention Unit on 1800 671 738 (option 3) to speak to a Communicable Diseases Clinical Nurse Consultant.
Information for Clinicians
With this emerging outbreak, clinicians are advised to be vigilant for clinical presentations that may be consistent with monkeypox and consider testing where risk factors are present. Clinicians should also consider the possibility of alternative diagnoses such as measles, chickenpox or shingles, Herpes Simplex infection, and syphilis.
Testing for monkeypox virus infection requires approval from the Communicable Diseases Prevention Unit (CDPU) in Public Health Services.
If you suspect monkeypox, isolate the patient and implement standard and transmission-based contact and droplet precautions. After taking a brief history that includes risk factors, contact the Communicable Diseases Prevention Unit (CDPU) in Public Health Services to arrange approval for testing.
You can contact CDPU via the Public Health Hotline on 1800 671 738: press option 3 to speak to a Communicable Diseases Clinical Nurse Consultant.
Where to get help
- In an emergency call ‘000’ (triple zero) for an ambulance
- You can also present to the emergency department of your nearest hospital or speak to your General Practitioner. Wear a face mask and call ahead to outline your concerns regarding monkeypox.
- For other queries, contact the Communicable Diseases Prevention Unit on 1800 671 738 (option 3 to speak to a Communicable Diseases Clinical Nurse Consultant) or via fax (6173 0821).
- Monkeypox - Centers for Diseases and Prevention
- Monkeypox - Australian Government website