An epidemiologist has reassured Australians that the infection rate of the monkeypox strain that has spread to at least 12 nations around the globe is far less transmissible than the latest Covid strains.
One Victorian man is in hospital after catching monkeypox – a rare illness similar to smallpox – while in the UK and another man from NSW became infected will travelling in Europe.
The World Health Organisation confirmed on Saturday that cases of monkeypox have been reported from 12 member states that are not endemic for the virus.
Epidemiologist Adrian Esterman said the West African variant of monkeypox that is circulating around the world was much milder than its counterpart form Central Africa.
It also has a reproduction rate (RO) close to 1, making it much less transmissible than the most recent strains of Covid-19 that carried an RO close to 15.
The symptoms of monkeypox are quite similar to those of Covid-19, according to Professor Esterman and may include headache, fever, chills, swollen lymph nodes, muscle aches, back pain and exhaustion.
However, within the first three days, a strikingly unique symptom synonymous with monkeypox develops in the form of a rash. In the latest outbreak, the rash appears to first appear in the sexual organs before spreading to the rest of the body.
Symptoms typically resolve within two weeks and a month.
NSW chief health officer Kerry Chant urged gay and bisexual men to stay vigilant, as early evidence suggested the disease had been most prevalent among these communities.
“We know it’s transmitted by that close skin-to-skin contact,” 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.”
The percentage of people who die once infected with the disease, known as the infection fatality ratio (IFR), is around 1 per cent.
In comparison, there have been seven million confirmed cases of Covid in Australia and 8000 deaths, creating a fatality ratio of 0.1 per cent.
Dr Chant has referred to large European parties and sex on premises venues as “superspreading events” in the monkeypox outbreak.
“It is important to be particularly vigilant if you returned from overseas from large parties or sex on premises venues overseas,” Dr Chant said.
When asked if Australian’s should be worried about another coronavirus-size pandemic, Professor Esterman said “not at this stage”.
NED-6228-Monkeypox-graphic“Since the outbreak appears to be primarily in men who have sex with men, then clearly this group should be concerned, “ he said.
“We already have a good vaccine against monkeypox – the one developed against smallpox.
“The vaccine is also an effective treatment for those already infected if given within four days of exposure.”
The smallpox vaccine has not been used for decades since the illness was eradicated in Australia in 1938.