Australia’s CMO Professor Paul Kelly has followed the lead of the World Health Organization (WHO) in declaring monkeypox (MPX) a Communicable Disease Incident of National Significance.
Most cases in Australia have been diagnosed in people aged 21 to 40 years. Confirmed and probable cases of MPX to date include 24 in New South Wales, 16 in Victoria, two in the Australian Capital Territory, one in Queensland and one in South Australia.
Official advice says the MPX rash and flu-like symptoms are “relatively mild” and will resolve within two-to-four weeks without treatment.
In a statement on Thursday, Kelly said the MPX usually occurred on the face before spreading to other parts of the body, including the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet.
“However, in this outbreak it is being seen especially on the genital and perianal regions of affected people,” Kelly said.
“The rash can vary from person to person and take on the appearance of pimples, blisters or sores.
“The flu-like symptoms often include fever, chills, body aches, headaches, swollen lymph nodes and tiredness.”
Monkeypox is less transmissible than COVID-19 and less harmful, according to government advice.
Kelly said at least 20,311 MPX cases were reported by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (US CDC) across 71 countries between 1 January and 28 July, 2022.
“In Australia, there have been 44 cases, the majority of which have been within returned international travellers,” Kelly said.
“There have been no deaths reported during the current outbreak outside of countries where the virus is endemic,” he said.
Professor Kelly explained the declaration allowed national coordination to help states and territories effectively manage the outbreaks within their jurisdictions. Since May, he said, the federal government had been working with stakeholders, state and territory health departments to ensure a “swift and coordinated” MPX response.
“The decision to declare MPX a communicable disease incident of national significance was made under the Emergency Response Plan for Communicable Disease Incidents of National Significance, in consultation with the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee,” Kelly said.
“The National Medical Stockpile has an available stock of MPX treatments, such as antivirals, for states and territories to access on request,” he added.
Clinical guidance on vaccination against the disease has been updated by the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI), with preparation for supplies of the third-generation vaccine to be made in Australia underway.
Professor Kelly said most cases of MPX had been diagnosed in patients who were gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men. Although MPX was not usually considered a sexually transmissible infection, he warned, intimate behaviours such as kissing, hugging and sexual activities posed a risk of infection.
“Physical contact with an infected person during sexual intercourse carries a significant risk of transmission, with infectious skin sores being the likely mode of transmission,” he said.