Monkeypox (MPXV) local community transmission in Australia — what you need to know
In Europe and the UK, MPXV cases are growing rapidly into the thousands. Meanwhile in Australia, there are now cases of local community transmission. So what’s going on, and how concerned should gay and bi guys be about MPXV?
Right now, you’d be forgiven for running out of fucks to give about yet another emerging health situation! We’ve had a rough few years of dealing with COVID, pandemic restrictions and climate chaos. Not to mention that as guys into other guys, we’ve been living under the threat of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) for four decades. Everyone’s more than a little fatigued. It’s hardly the best time to throw another virus into the mix.
And yet here we are. MPXV (known as monkeypox) is the latest pathogen doing the rounds — read all about it here. In just a matter of months, more than 31,000 cases have popped up in over 80 countries that don’t normally report the disease.
What a time to be alive! But we are exactly that — MPXV isn’t the mass killer that AIDS or COVID have been. It’s not usually fatal and does go away by itself. However, it is unpleasant and can be particularly painful for several weeks. Even if it’s not so bad for you, MPXV gets more serious in people with compromised immune systems.
The global MPXV outbreak and atypical symptoms
The situation around MPXV is changing rapidly. In barely a month, the world has gone from a handful of early reports to European numbers tripling into the thousands. Popular party destinations, Spain, Germany, the US and the UK, each have more than 2900 reported cases. According to the World Health Organization, the majority of these are among men who have sex with men — though MPXV can affect anyone.
With international travel back on, inbound travellers are inadvertently importing MPXV cases into the country. But does the boom in cases overseas equate to a mass outbreak in Australia?
In short, no… not yet, at least. But as we watch other countries grapple with infection control, we could be seeing a taste of what’s yet to come.
One complication is that symptoms in the current global outbreak are inconsistent with what doctors might expect. Previous MPXV outbreaks saw more lesions on limbs, faces and necks. However, in a recent UK study, 75 per cent of MPXV cases had lesions only in one or two areas, mostly on or around genitals. It seems skin symptoms can vary from person to person — for some it can look like pimples, while for others, there might be blisters or a rash. These variable skin presentations could easily be misdiagnosed as herpes or syphilis. In addition, some people report having a fever while others don’t.
The MPXV situation in Australia
We don’t have a crystal ball to be certain about what happens next for those of us in Australia. But there’s merit in us being ready for what might be around the corner. One undesirable outcome would be MPXV becoming endemic here (meaning it keeps circulating like the flu). And we don’t yet know if getting it once provides immunity from reinfection.
For now, Australia has 70 MPXV cases. That might not sound like a lot. But there are now cases involving local transmission — cases that aren’t linked to any international travel. As has been the situation abroad, once MPXV starts spreading through local sexual networks, it becomes a much bigger problem to tackle.
And about that… how do we tackle an MPXV outbreak if (or when) local transmissions in Australia ramp up? MPXV isn’t COVID or HIV — in fact, there’s little in common between them. We have various tools at our disposal to prevent HIV and at least reduce the impact of getting COVID. But we’re not yet in the same steadfast position for preventing MPXV.
MPXV outbreak control
MPXV was first detected in 1970. So unlike the early days of COVID, there’s already a modern vaccine that works to prevent it. Thanks to the swift actions of federal and state/territory governments, Australia has already secured 450,000 doses of the vaccine. Vaccine rollout is now underway with an initial limited supply, though more vaccines are expected to arrive in the coming months. Contact your nearest LGBTQ health organisation for vaccine eligibility criteria and how you can access it.
While you’re waiting, it’s best to keep in mind that MPXV is less transmissible than something like COVID. You’re unlikely to pick it up from walking round the supermarket or having the family around for a Sunday roast. And while it’s not currently considered a sexually transmitted infection (STI), similar to COVID, it can be passed on through close, intimate or skin-to-skin contact. It also spreads through coughs and sneezes (if you inhale infected droplets) or by touching clothing, towels or bed linen contaminated with MPXV.
Does all of this mean it’s time to panic? No. But it’s also not the time to bury our heads in the sand, or wish the situation away with hopes and prayers. So what can you do?
What you can do to stop the spread of MPXV?
We know from COVID and HIV/AIDS that sex doesn’t stop during a pandemic. And let’s be clear — no one’s telling you to stop hooking up because of MPXV. If you want to mitigate the risk to you and your partners, you can choose to have less casual sex or reduce the number of sexual partners you’re seeing. If you are hooking up, here’s how you can do your bit to help stop the spread.
1. Get vaccinated
A safe and effective vaccine that protects against MPXV is available now with initial limited supply. More vaccines are expected to arrive in Australia over the coming months.
States and territories are responsible for rolling out the vaccine in their jurisdiction, including how and where it will be available and who gets priority access.
We’ll update you with more information as it becomes available. For now, contact your nearest LGBTQ health organisation for details on how to get vaccinated in your state or territory.
2. Know the signs and monitor for symptoms
Most people develop symptoms in 1-2 weeks but the incubation period (the time from infection to the onset of symptoms) of MPXV can be up to 21 days.
Symptoms of MPXV may include:
- swollen lymph nodes
- muscle aches/back pain/joint pain
- low energy/exhaustion
- skin rash, lesions or sores (for some people it can look like pimples, for others they may resemble blisters)
If you or a sexual partner has any of these symptoms, don’t have sex and avoid any physical contact for the time being. Self-isolate (see below).
3. Swap contact details
Meeting up with someone new? Discuss and swap contact details so if one of you develops symptoms, you can keep each other informed. This also helps health authorities with contact tracing — a crucial line of defence in outbreak control.
Keeping records isn’t just essential for MPXV tracing. Swapping contact details and notifying sexual partners is a way to do your bit in helping curb the spread of other infections, such as syphilis, gonorrhea, shigella and chlamydia.
4. Self-isolate if you have symptoms
Noticed one or more of the symptoms above or think you might have been exposed? Self-isolate and seek medical attention immediately. Avoid contact with others and call your doctor or local sexual health service via phone or through telehealth — do not attend a health service without informing them first.
If you’re unsure what to do or you need support to self-isolate, contact your local LGBTQ health organisation — find yours in our partner network.
Advice for travellers
If you’ve recently returned from overseas, have attended any dance parties, sex parties or saunas — especially in Europe and North America — monitor for symptoms for 21 days.
If you develop any symptoms, particularly an unusual rash, pimples, lesions or sores, seek medical advice immediately.
If you’re planning to travel overseas, stay informed and remain aware of developments:
- Follow public health alerts and advice from local health authorities of the countries you are visiting
- Keep alert of any event updates (before and after) from organisers if you are visiting festivals or large events
- Be aware and exercise caution if you plan to attend sex parties or SOPVs, particularly in places where there are identified cases of MPXV
- Review the list of affected destinations
- Visit Smartraveller for travel alerts
To reduce your risk of MPXV overseas:
- Avoid contact, including sexual contact, with people who are unwell or have MPXV symptoms
- Avoid skin-to-skin contact, particularly with any rash, pimples, lesions or sores
- Avoid contact with clothing, bedding or objects that have been in contact with or used by people with MPXV
- Always practise good hygiene
If you develop any symptoms overseas, self-isolate and seek local medical attention immediately.
MPXV information and support
As we find ourselves in another unprecedented situation, let’s keep in mind that queer communities have a long legacy of doing the right thing to protect ourselves and our loved ones. We don’t yet know when or how MPXV might unfold in Australia. But we can be sure that in the face of one more health issue, we’ll navigate it with grace, compassion and care for each other.
Got questions? Contact us online or through Messenger. Alternatively, reach out to your local LGBTQ health organisation.
Find further MPXV information at:
The MPXV situation is changing rapidly in Australia. Information in this article was updated on August 15, 2022.