Latest News

What Exactly Is Monkeypox And Should We Be Worried?

A simple explainer on the illness.

Ah, another illness to think about. In case you missed the headlines, at least two cases of Monkeypox have been identified in Australia this week, one in New South Wales and one in Victoria.

They join a number of monkeypox cases which have cropped up in Europe and North America over the last couple of weeks, sparking emergency meetings within the World Health Organisation to determine how to tackle the illness. It’s alarmed the WHO due to the fact that while the virus has existed for some time, cases of it outside of Africa are extremely rare. 

So what actually is it, and should we be worried? Below, we look at everything you need to know about the illness. 

What is monkeypox and what are its symtoms?

Monkeypox is a virus which originated in wild animals including primates and rodents. It has jumped to people over time (albeit rarely), with cases largely endemic to West Africa. 

Similar to smallpox, early symptoms of monkeypox can include a fever, headache, muscle aches, swollen lymph nodes, chills and fatigue. 

After a few days, the virus can present a rash not unlike that of chickenpox, with fluid-filled lesions appearing on the face, arms and legs.

How does monkeypox spread?

Monkeypox does not spread as easily between people as Covid-19 does—it is transmissible via respiratory droplets during close contact, usually via bodily fluid or by touching clothing which infected lesions have touched. Per the Australian health department, there would need to be “prolonged face-to-face contact” in order to be infected. 

It is also not advised to sleep in the same room or bed as an infectious person, nor is living in the same quarters, or drinking and eating from the same utensils, according to The Guardianwho spoke to Peter Collignon, a professor of infectious disease at the Australian National University. 

The incubation period of monkeypox differs slightly to Covid-19—someone who has monkeypox may present symptoms anywhere from five days to three weeks. They will remain infectious until the legions have healed, which is usually within a few weeks. 

(Credit: Getty)

How serious is it?

Typically, the virus is considered mild—but it pays to note there are different strains of it. The Congo strain is considered more severe and has a mortality rate of up to one in 10 cases (10 per cent). But the West African strain, which is the only strain that’s been detected so far in the current international outbreak, has a fatality rate of about 1 per cent or less. 

The smallpox vaccine has also been shown to have up to 85 per cent efficacy against contracting monkeypox—it’s often given to people who have been exposed to the virus. Per Health DirectThe Australian Department of Health has stockpiled some smallpox vaccines to use in case of an outbreak. The exact number of those vaccines is unknown. 

At this stage, Australian authorities say that the monkeypox virus is “not a major cause for concern”, but that said, if you have recently returned to Australia after visiting a country where monkeypox has been detected, you should monitor for symptoms and alert a healthcare professional if any appear.

Related stories