Monkeypox virus alert for WA hospitals and GPs

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WA Health says there have been no cases detected in Western Australia so far, but they are asking clinicians to be vigilant and watch for signs of monkeypox virus. File picture

THERE have been no cases of monkeypox virus detected in Western Australia to date but WA Health is alerting clinicians at GPs and hospitals after its emergence in the eastern states and internationally.

According to the World Health Organization the first known case of human monkeypox was in identified in a nine-year-old boy in 1970 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo – smallpox had been eliminated in the region in 1968.

The first monkeypox outbreak outside of Africa was in the United States of America in 2003 and was linked to contact with infected pet prairie dogs.

“These pets had been housed with Gambian pouched rats and dormice that had been imported into the country from Ghana,’’ a WHO fact sheet says.

“This outbreak led to over 70 cases of monkeypox in the US.

“Monkeypox has also been reported in travellers from Nigeria to Israel in September 2018, to the United Kingdom in September 2018, December 2019, May 2021 and May 2022, to Singapore in May 2019 and to the United States of America in July and November 2021.

“In May 2022, multiple cases of monkeypox were identified in several non-endemic countries.

“Studies are currently underway to further understand the epidemiology, sources of infection, and transmission patterns.’’

There has been one probable case of the virus detected in New South Wales and another case identified in Victoria – both cases had returned from travel overseas.

WA deputy chief health officer Paul Armstrong said that WA Health had issued an alert to clinicians with information on how to diagnose and manage cases of monkeypox.

“There have been no cases detected in Western Australia so far, but we are asking clinicians to be vigilant and watch for signs of the virus,” he said.

“Monkeypox is spread to humans through close contact with an infected person or animal, or with material contaminated with the virus.

“Many of the recently recorded cases have occurred in men who have sex with men.

“This virus does not spread easily among people – though you can get it through very close contact with someone.

“The virus is transmitted from one person to another by close contact with lesions, body fluids, respiratory droplets and contaminated materials such as bedding.

“The infection usually causes a mild illness and most people recover within a few weeks.”

Dr Armstrong said the initial symptoms of the illness included fever, headache, and sometimes sore throat, cough and enlarged lymph nodes.

A rash then developed which could be widespread or localised to a specific part of the body.

Anyone with concerns that they could be infected with monkeypox virus was advised to consult their general practitioner or a sexual health clinic.

No cases have been reported in Western Australia previously.

The WHO fact sheet says monkeypox is usually a self-limited disease with the symptoms lasting from two to four weeks.

But severe cases can occur – in recent times, the case fatality ratio has been around 3-6 per cent.

“Monkeypox is a viral zoonosis (a virus transmitted to humans from animals) with symptoms very similar to those seen in the past in smallpox patients, although it is clinically less severe,’’ the fact sheet says.

“With the eradication of smallpox in 1980 and subsequent cessation of smallpox vaccination, monkeypox has emerged as the most important orthopoxvirus for public health.

“Monkeypox primarily occurs in Central and West Africa, often in proximity to tropical rainforests and has been increasingly appearing in urban areas.

“Animal hosts include a range of rodents and non-human primates.’’