Monkeypox (MPOX) local community transmission in Australia — what you need to know
Globally, monkeypox cases have grown beyond 90,000. Meanwhile in Australia, local community transmissions appear to have peaked — but local cases are still popping up. We find out what’s going on, and what gay and bi guys can do about monkeypox.
Right now, you’d be forgiven for running out of fucks to give about yet another health situation! We’ve had a rough few years of dealing with COVID-19, 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. So, it’s hardly the best time to throw another virus into the mix.
And yet here we are. Monkeypox (also known as MPOX, MPX or MPXV) is the latest virus doing the rounds — read all about it here. In a matter of months, thousands of cases popped up in over 100 countries that don’t normally report the disease.
Is monkeypox deadly?
What a time to be alive! But we are exactly that — monkeypox 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 highly unpleasant and can be particularly painful for several weeks. Even if it’s not so bad for you, monkeypox gets more serious in people with weakened immune systems.
The global monkeypox outbreak and atypical symptoms
The situation around monkeypox is changing rapidly. Popular destinations, Spain, Germany, France, the US, Brazil, Mexico and the UK, each grappled with outbreaks of between 3700 and 31,000 cases. According to the World Health Organization, the majority of these are among gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men — though monkeypox can affect anyone.
With international travel back on, inbound travellers are inadvertently importing monkeypox cases into the country.
Other affected countries have curbed their outbreaks by vaccinating. Australia’s vaccination program has also been successful in curbing the biggest outbreaks in Sydney and Melbourne. Swift community action has once again shown how gay and bi guys in Australia are keen to step forward to protect ourselves and each other.
However, one complication is that symptoms in the current global outbreak are inconsistent with what doctors might expect. Previous monkeypox outbreaks saw more lesions on limbs, faces and necks. But in a recent UK study, 75 per cent of monkeypox 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, monkeypox can look like pimples, while for others there might be blisters or a rash. These varying skin symptoms could easily be misdiagnosed as herpes or syphilis. In addition, some people report having a fever while others don’t.
What is the monkeypox situation in Australia?
For now, our case numbers are stable — vaccinate, and you’ll help keep it that way.
There have been at least 150 monkeypox cases reported in Australia so far. As has been the situation abroad, once monkeypox starts spreading through local sexual networks, it becomes a much bigger problem to tackle. One undesirable outcome would be monkeypox becoming endemic here (meaning it keeps circulating like the flu).
Although global cases are decreasing, monkeypox is not over yet. Other countries continue to report cases. Just one new case of monkeypox could spread quickly and easily through our communities.
Vaccinating now will provide you with the best possible protection. Remember, reaching full protection takes at least 6 weeks, so book in now — especially if you’re heading overseas!
Monkeypox outbreak control
Monkeypox 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 across all states and territories.
Two doses of vaccine provides you with the best protection. Check out Get your monkeypox shot — what you need to know about the monkeypox vaccine for information on vaccine eligibility criteria and how you can get it for free.
Fortunately, monkeypox 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. Though similar to COVID, it can be passed on through close, intimate or skin-to-skin contact — the kind that happens during sex. It also spreads through kisses, coughs and sneezes (if you inhale infected droplets), or by touching clothing, towels or bed linen contaminated with monkeypox.
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 monkeypox?
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 monkeypox.
Until you’re fully vaccinated, if you want to reduce the risk to you and your partners, you can choose to have less casual sex or decrease 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 for monkeypox
A safe and effective vaccine that protects against monkeypox is available now. Find your nearest monkeypox vaccination location using our interactive map.
The vaccine is provided free of charge. Maximum protection requires 2 doses of vaccine given at least 28 days apart. It takes 2 weeks for each dose of vaccine to reach the highest level of protection in your body. Vaccinate ahead of travel and party events and as soon as possible in your state or territory
States and territories are responsible for rolling out the vaccine in their jurisdiction, including how and where it will be available and who gets access.
Discover more about vaccinating in Get your monkeypox shot — what you need to know about the monkeypox vaccine
2. Know the signs and monitor for symptoms of monkeypox
Most people develop symptoms in 1-2 weeks but the incubation period (the time from infection to the onset of symptoms) of monkeypox can range from 1 to 21 days.
Symptoms of monkeypox 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).
Discover more about monkeypox symptoms in Monkeypox — know the signs and symptoms.
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 monkeypox contact 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 HIV, 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 and attended any dance parties, sex parties or saunas 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:
- Vaccinate at least 6 weeks before you travel
- 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 sex venues, particularly in places where there are identified cases of monkeypox
- Review the list of affected destinations
- Visit Smartraveller for travel alerts
To reduce your risk of monkeypox overseas:
- Avoid contact, including sexual contact, with people who are unwell or have monkeypox 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 monkeypox
- Always practise good hygiene
If you develop any symptoms overseas, self-isolate and seek local medical attention immediately.
Monkeypox 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 know when monkeypox might end 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 information about monkeypox in your state or territory: