Experts warn of unusual monkeypox outbreak in Australia

CANBERRA, May 23: As Australia records its second case of monkeypox, local authorities and experts are readying for what they called a “highly unusual outbreak” of the disease, which in recent weeks has been spreading across the globe.

Last week, the state of New South Wales (NSW) recorded the nation’s first case of the virus, and a second case was later confirmed in the Victoria’s state capital Melbourne.

Over the weekend the World Health Organization (WHO) held a meeting to discuss what has been Europe’s worst outbreak of monkeypox in history.

Head of the Biosecurity Program at the University of New South Wales’ (UNSW) Kirby Institute, Professor Raina MacIntyre, who has played a major role in the nation’s fight against Covid-19, has hit the ground running to inform the public and called on the government to ready itself for a potential outbreak.

In an article published on UNSW’s website on Monday, she reiterated that the initial cases were not a “cause for panic” but a reminder for people returning from overseas to “remain vigilant”.

She said that while the variant of monkeypox appears to have a similar fatality rate to Covid-19 of around 1 per cent, it was nowhere near as contagious.

“It is a respiratory virus and can also spread to humans without contact, probably through aerosols,” said MacIntyre. “However, it does not usually spread easily between humans, and typically only in close contacts. Studies have found about 3 per cent of contacts of a monkeypox case will be infected.”

Several weeks after being infected, individuals may experience symptoms including fever, headache, swelling of the lymph nodes, muscle aches, which are followed several days later by the highly distinctive pustule rash.

The monkeypox virus was first identified in humans in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in 1970, but scientists are puzzled as to why it is now spreading outside of the African continent.

MacIntyre said waning immunity provided by the smallpox vaccination, which stems from the same virus that is causing monkeypox and was administered in masse before it was eradicated in the 1970s is likely a key factor.

A 2018 report published in the Emerging Infectious Diseases journal estimated that just 10 per cent of Australia’s population were vaccinated against smallpox.

MacIntyre called for contact tracing, quarantine of close contacts, and “ring vaccination”, where contacts of confirmed cases are vaccinated as opposed to the entire population, citing the fact that Australia is unlikely to have a large supply of second and third generation smallpox vaccines.

“Given the unusual nature of this epidemic, it would be wise to ensure we have a stockpile of antivirals and enough of both types of vaccines.”

(IANS)