New disease name – mpox is the new preferred term for the disease that has been called monkeypox.
Expanded vaccination eligibility criteria
What is mpox (monkeypox)?
Mpox is a viral infection that does not spread easily between people.
What you need to know in the ACT
Since May 2022, there has been a global increase in mpox cases reported from multiple countries where mpox is not usually seen.
Confirmed cases of mpox have been reported in Australia, including the ACT. ACT Health has issued a clinician alert to GPs and hospitals to provide advice on referral and diagnosis.
How mpox spreads
Mpox mainly spreads from one person to another by direct skin-to-skin contact with someone who has symptoms, such as during sexual activity.
Less commonly, it may be spread by direct contact with contaminated objects such as bedding, towels or clothes. It can also be spread by breathing in droplets from a person with mpox during prolonged face-to-face contact, but this is rare.
Mpox may be passed on during sex. It is not known how long the virus remains present in semen and other genital fluids.
People with mpox are contagious from the time they first get symptoms until all the lesions have crusted, scabs have fallen off and a fresh layer of skin has formed underneath, as determined by the person’s treating clinician.
While contagious, people with mpox should stay at home and avoid physical or intimate contact with others including sexual activity.
People who have had the mpox virus should use barrier methods of protection (such as condoms and dams) when engaging in sexual activity for 12 weeks after recovery.
Who is at risk?
People are at highest risk following skin-to-skin contact with someone who has mpox and has a rash or sores. This can happen when you are having sex.
Based on current experience in Australia and internationally, people at highest risk from mpox are gay, bisexual or other men who have sex with men (GBMSM). .
Events held in enclosed spaces such as sex parties, saunas and sex-on-premises venues, where there is intimate physical contact with others, carry a higher risk of mpox transmission.
Anyone taking part in these types of activities can be exposed to mpox – the risk of exposure to mpox is associated with behaviours involving close physical contact, not with an individual’s gender or sexuality.
Although most cases in Australia have been in people infected while overseas, some people have been infected in Australia.
Symptoms usually begin 7-14 days after exposure, but this can be as short as a few days or as long as 21 days.
Symptoms can include:
rashes, pimple-like lesions or sores, particularly in areas that are hard to see such as the genitals, anus or buttocks, and on the face, arms and legs
ulcers, lesions or sores in the mouth
People can experience fever, chills, headache, muscle and joint aches, backache and swollen lymph nodes before the rash or lesions develop.
The lesions change and go through different stages, like chickenpox. They start as a flat red rash, develop into pustules, before forming a crust and becoming a scab.
Some people can experience only a few lesions.
Anyone who develops symptoms, should stay at home and phone their GP clinic to organise a telehealth appointment in the first instance, or they can phone the Canberra Sexual Health Clinic on (02) 5124 2184.
Mpox infection can be confirmed by testing the blister fluid or scabs from the skin rash. This test needs to be collected by a health professional.
If you need to attend an in-person appointment as part of a diagnosis, you should wear a mask and cover any lesions with clothing or a dressing (for example a Band-Aid).
The illness is usually mild and most people recover within 2-4 weeks.
Severe illness can occur, particularly in people who are immunocompromised. A few people may need support in hospital to manage dehydration or pain.
For people with severe illness, antiviral medications are available. Speak with your healthcare provider for more information about antiviral medication.
Vaccination is only one way to prevent mpox infection.
Even if vaccinated, it’s still important to take steps to reduce your risk of exposure or spreading mpox as there is still a risk of infection following vaccination.
Ways to prevent catching or spreading mpox include:
Avoid close physical contact with people who have mpox including contact with any bedding or towels they may have been in contact with.
Exchange contact information with your sexual partners to assist with contact tracing if needed.
GBMSM who are returning from countries known to have mpox outbreaks, such as Europe and North America should monitor for symptoms, particularly those who have attended dance parties, sex parties, saunas, or sex on premises venues.
Check yourself for symptoms before you leave home. If you feel unwell or sick, or have any rashes or sores, do not attend events or venues.
If you are advised that you are a contact of someone with mpox and have questions, contact ACT Health Communicable Disease Control (CDC) on (02) 5124 9213.
Who should be vaccinated?
Eligibility criteria to receive the JYNNEOS® mpox vaccine have been expanded in the ACT.
People currently eligible to receive the vaccine are:
Sexually active men (cis and trans) who are gay, bisexual or have sex with other men
Partners of the people above
Vaccinations are available at Canberra Sexual Health Centre and the Interchange Health Co-operative. Further details about vaccine clinics and making a booking can be found under Mpox vaccination clinics.
The vaccine can also be used as post-exposure prevention for people who have had a known high-risk exposure. ACT Health will advise on the need for post-exposure vaccination if you have been identified as a contact of someone with mpox infection.
Information about the mpox vaccine (JYNNEOS)®
To be fully vaccinated, two doses of the vaccine are needed at least 28 days apart.
You will have the strongest protection from two weeks after the second vaccine, but there is some protection from having one dose of the vaccine. There is ongoing research about the vaccine - results from available clinical trials indicate that the vaccine is safe and is expected to provide good protection against mpox.
After you have been vaccinated against mpox, you may still be at risk of infection. You should continue to check for symptoms and take steps to protect yourself. More information about what you can do to reduce your risk and stop the spread of mpox is available at prevention and from Meridian ACT.
If the eligibility criteria apply to you, you can book your vaccination at one of the clinics listed below. You do not require a referral from your GP. Vaccination is provided free of charge for all eligible people. Canberra Sexual Health Centre and Interchange Health Co-operative will accept bookings for those not enrolled in Medicare.
We encourage you to book your appointment as soon as possible if you meet the eligibility criteria to reduce your risk of mpox.
Clinics may have limited appointments and be responding to a high volume of calls. Your patience and courtesy while contacting them is greatly appreciated.
Please discuss with your GP if you have concerns about mpox, the vaccine or questions about your eligibility.