What is monkeypox and what does it mean for guys in Australia?

By Chris Williams, updated 3 weeks ago in Health / Sexual health

man looks at mobile phone quizzically

Following reports of a rare virus spreading in Europe, North America and the United Kingdom, Australia now has its first cases of MPXV (monkeypox).

Monkeypox — otherwise known as MPXV — is a viral infection typically associated with travel to Central Africa and West Africa. But authorities are now concerned it is spreading by community transmission, including through sexual networks.

Although reports of most new MPXV cases globally are among gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men, MPXV can affect anyone. Australian health authorities are recommending communities remain informed and aware. Here’s what you need to know.

In this article:

Key points

  • MPXV (monkeypox) is a rare viral infection that spreads through close contact and can affect anyone
  • Most people recover within a few weeks without needing treatment
  • International cases are increasing; travellers should be aware of symptoms and stay up to date with local health advice
  • There may be community transmission of MPXV in Australia
  • People are advised to monitor for symptoms, including any unusual rashes or lesions
  • Anyone with suspected MPXV should self-isolate and call before attending a doctor or sexual health service
  • People are encouraged to keep contact details of sexual partners to assist with any contact tracing

What is monkeypox (MPXV)?

MPXV is a rare disease caused by viral infection. MPXV belongs to the same family of viruses as smallpox, but it’s much less severe.

“Unlike other viruses such as COVID-19, MPXV does not spread easily from person to person, so the risk to the population remains low.”

Traditionally, MPXV is mostly found in tropical rainforest areas of remote parts of central and west African countries. It’s a viral zoonotic disease, which means the virus can spread between animals and people.

Unlike other viruses such as COVID-19, MPXV does not spread easily from person to person, so the risk to the population remains low.

MPXV cases in Australia

The situation with MPXV is changing rapidly. There are currently 6 known cases of MPXV in Australia, including 4 in NSW and 2 in Victoria. A seventh case in NSW is under investigation.

Most cases are among returned international travellers. However, one case is identified in a NSW resident who recently returned from Queensland. The case is not connected to the first case reported in NSW, suggesting there may be community transmission of MPXV in Australia.

ACON provides MPXV information for for LGBTQ+ communities in NSW. Thorne Harbour Health provides MPXV information for LGBTQ+ communities in Victoria. You can find LGBTQ+ health organisations for your state or territory in our Partner Network.

Who is at risk of MPXV?

Current outbreaks appear to show community transmission through direct and often intimate contact with someone with MPXV.

People returning from or travelling to countries where cases have been identified are urged to be aware of MPXV symptoms.

“People are urged to keep contact details of their sexual partners to assist with contact tracing so any outbreaks can be minimised and managed.”

Anyone who has attended international dance parties, sex parties or saunas — especially in Europe — and who develops MPXV symptoms (particularly an unusual rash) should seek medical advice immediately. Call ahead before attending a doctor or sexual health service.

If you’re travelling overseas, stay informed of the rapidly changing situation by following local public health alerts and updates from event organisers in the countries you’re visiting.

How does a person get monkeypox/MPXV; is it sexually transmitted?

While MPXV doesn’t spread easily between people, it can happen as a result of:

  • skin-to-skin contact during intimate or sexual contact with rashes, bodily fluids (such as fluid, pus or blood from skin lesions), or scabs on the skin
  • coming in contact with ulcers, lesions or sores in the mouth — the virus can spread through saliva
  • coming into contact with objects such as clothing, towels or bed linen of a person who has MPXV

People are urged to keep contact details of their sexual partners to assist with contact tracing so any outbreaks can be minimised and managed. The Smartraveller website also provides MPXV information for travellers.

MPXV is not considered a sexually transmissible infection (STI), though transmission can occur through intimate physical contact during sex.

What are the symptoms of monkeypox/MPXV

MPXV typically begins with symptoms similar to COVID-19 or the flu.

MPXV symptoms usually appear between 6 to 13 days after exposure but can sometimes take longer. Symptoms can last from 2 to 4 weeks. Most people fully recover during this time without need for treatment.

Symptoms of MPXV include:

  • swollen lymph nodes
  • fever/chills
  • headache
  • muscle aches/back pain/joint pain
  • low energy/exhaustion
  • skin rash or lesions

Following the onset of initial symptoms a rash can develop on the mouth, cock, arse, vagina or front-hole.

MPXV rash can sometimes be mistaken for the rashes occuring with chickenpox, herpes or syphilis.

People who develop any of these symptoms, should self-isolate and seek medical advice immediately. Call ahead before attending a doctor or sexual health service.

How dangerous is MPXV?

Cases of MPXV are usually mild. However, in some situations such as undiagnosed HIV, MPXV may cause serious illness. The chance of severe disease or death is more likely among children.

Evidence around how MPXV impacts or interacts with HIV remains limited. The current outbreaks may provide new knowledge about its impact and transmission.

What to do if you have MPXV symptoms

Anyone with concerns or symptoms — particularly a rash — should seek medical advice. Contact a doctor/GP or sexual health centre with information about your situation before visiting and request a telehealth appointment where possible.

If you have symptoms, it’s best to self-isolate to prevent the virus from spreading to other people.

“As most cases of MPXV are mild medical treatment is not usually required.”

See this article for information on finding an LGBTQ+ friendly doctor.

Can MPXV be cured?

MPXV is typically a self-limiting disease. That means it will usually clear up by itself in a few weeks, just like other infections such as the common cold.

As most cases of MPXV are mild, medical treatment is not usually required. For people with compromised immune systems at greater risk of serious illness, treatments for MPXV are under investigation.

The Australian Government Department of Health reports that “Australia has a vaccine and a treatment available and other options are being considered by states and territories.”

Guidance on the use of vaccines and treatments for MPXV in Australia is currently being developed by medical experts.

To stay up to date with news and the latest health advice, follow Emen8 on Facebook, contact your local LGBTI health organisation or your local government health department.