Monkeypox explained: Should we be worried?

If dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic over the past two years wasn’t enough, there's a new virus on the march in our community: monkeypox.  

Reported cases have nearly doubled in the past week in Aotearoa, and access to the vaccine is still a way off. 

The Government's now considering more support for infected patients.

So, what exactly is this disease, how worried should you be if you catch it and where did exactly did it come from?

What is monkeypox?

Monkeypox virions.

It's a zoonotic virus - transmissible from animals to humans under natural conditions, like Covid-19, Ebola and the H1N1 influenza strain (swine flu).  

Where did monkeypox come from?

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, researchers work in an on-site field laboratory while tracking a monkeypox outbreak, 1997.

It was first reported in in lab monkeys in Denmark in the 1950s. 

The first reports of infected humans came in 1970, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  Over the next few decades it made its way through Central and West Africa, where it became endemic.

What's the situation now?

In May 2022, things start to change - more cases popping up around the world.

In July 2022 the World Health Organization declared it a global outbreak.

Now there’s community transmission in Europe, Australia and New Zealand.  

As of October 19, there have been 73,782 monkeypox cases reported worldwide, 72,922 in places that haven't historically had it before, and 31 confirmed deaths.  

What does monkeypox look and feel like?

Patient with monkeypox infection

The disease presents itself as pimples, blisters and pus. Lesions can appear within weeks, and eventually scab off within the month.  

And it can have flu-like symptoms including fever, fatigue and swollen lymph nodes.  

Some patients may experience some, none, or all of the symptoms. Just like Covid-19, it's different for everyone.

How do you catch monkeypox?

Skin-to-skin contact

It's usually caught through skin-to-skin contact.  

If you touch an infected person's pus-filled lesions, make contact with contaminated objects like bedding or clothing, or breath in droplets, you can catch monkeypox.

A common misconception is that it is an STD.

Who is monkeypox affecting?

Monkeypox transmission in gay and bisexual people

The current outbreak is making its way through rainbow communities, particularly bisexual men and men who have sex with men.

What happens if you catch monkeypox?

Close-up of blood sample tube positive with monkeypox virus

It can take up to a month - possibly more - to recover, depending how long it takes for lesions to fall off.  

The official advice from Health NZ is to stay home, isolate, wear a mask and call your local GP, clinic or Healthline. 

You will then be tested and required to provide info about your close contacts and where you've been 

Sounds all a bit familiar, doesn't it?  


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