Contact your doctor or local hospital if you develop symptoms of monkeypox and you have recently returned from overseas or you have been in contact with a monkeypox case in Australia.
- Monkeypox is a rare disease caused by a virus related to the smallpox virus.
- Monkeypox does not easily spread unless there is extended close contact.
- Monkeypox is usually mild and resolves within 2 to 4 weeks.
- The rash goes through several stages, ending with pustules which crust and fall off.
- Treatment is aimed at relieving symptoms with simple pain medicines and staying hydrated.
What is monkeypox?
Monkeypox is a rare infectious disease caused by the monkeypox virus. This is related to the virus that causes smallpox.
Monkeypox is mostly found in tropical rainforest areas of Central and West Africa. Cases outside Africa have usually been linked to travellers who visited that region and may spread the infection when they go elsewhere.
Monkeypox is usually a mild disease that generally resolves in 2 to 4 weeks. But it can potentially be a serious illness. The risk of more severe symptoms is higher in children or people with reduced immunity.
How does monkeypox spread?
You can catch monkeypox through close contact with an infected person or animal, or through material contaminated with the virus.
Monkeypox can spread from an infected person to another via:
- infected droplets from coughs or sneezes being inhaled or landing in the eyes, nose or mouth (extended close contact is usually needed)
- physical contact with infected bodily fluids or scabs or blisters — for example, from touching, kissing or sexual contact
- touching bedding, towels or clothing used by an infected person
Outside Africa, animal-to-human transmission is rare and generally starts when an infected animal is imported and infects local animals. In Africa, monkeypox may be found in some wild animals, such as rodents like rats or squirrels.
Monkeypox can be spread from animals to people, through:
- bites and scratches
- contact with infected blood, fluids, or the skin of the animal or its bedding
- eating or preparing meat from an infected animal
What are the symptoms of monkeypox?
The symptoms of monkeypox are similar to those of smallpox but are generally milder. They include:
A rash generally appears 1 to 5 days after the fever starts. The rash begins as flat, red spots, often on the face first. Then the rash spreads to other parts of the body — usually the arms and legs, rather than the trunk. The rash may also appear on the palms and soles, inside the mouth, on the genitals and on the eyes.
The rash changes its appearance, going through different stages. Eventually it develops into pustules (lesions filled with yellowish fluid) which then crust and fall off. The number of lesions can vary from a few to several thousand.
The symptoms usually clear up after 2 to 4 weeks. Children may have more severe disease. People with immune deficiencies are more at risk of complications.
How soon after exposure to monkeypox do symptoms appear?
The time it takes symptoms to appear after exposure to an infected person (incubation period) is usually 1 to 2 weeks for monkeypox, but can range from 5 to 21 days.
When should I see my doctor?
Contact your doctor or local hospital for urgent medical attention, if you develop the symptoms above or similar ones and:
- you have recently returned from overseas, or
- you have been in contact with a monkeypox case in Australia
Phone ahead, wear a face mask and avoid close contact with other people when you visit the doctor or hospital.
Aside from this, you should isolate at home and avoid close contact with others until you have medical advice.
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How is monkeypox diagnosed?
If you have symptoms of monkeypox, the diagnosis can be confirmed by testing fluid from the blisters or the scabs from the rash.
How is monkeypox treated?
There is no specific treatment for monkeypox in Australia. Treatment is aimed at relieving symptoms. For most people, monkeypox will be mild. Someone with monkeypox will only need simple pain medicines, such as paracetamol, and to stay hydrated.
When a person’s symptoms are severe, or there are complications, they may need intravenous fluids and other medicines.
Can monkeypox be prevented?
There are several things that can help prevent monkeypox:
- Vaccination against smallpox is 85 per cent effective in preventing monkeypox. Close contacts of a person with monkeypox may be offered smallpox vaccination if it is less than 4 days since they were exposed. Vaccination within 4 days may prevent disease.
- Travellers to affected regions in Africa should avoid contact with animals that may carry the monkeypox virus. They should also avoid handling or eating bush meat (wild game).
- Practising good hand hygiene may protect you from being infected.
- If you are diagnosed with monkeypox, isolate from other people as per your doctor’s instructions, normally until the rash has gone.
- Contact tracing and isolation of infected people can help prevent the spread of monkeypox.
Complications of monkeypox
Most people will recover from monkeypox without problems. However, complications can include secondary infections, pneumonia, sepsis (a severe response to infection), encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) and eye infection resulting in loss of vision.
Larger skin lesions may leave a scar when they heal.
Rarely, death may occur — this is estimated at between 1 and 10 per cent of cases, depending on which type of the virus (Congo Basin or West African) a person has.
Resources and support
Visit the Department of Health website for the latest information about monkeypox in Australia.
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Last reviewed: May 2022