The first confirmed case of the rare disease is in a Melbourne man in his 30s who recently traveled to the UK, where a small cluster of the virus is present.
The suspected case in Sydney concerns a man in his 40s who developed a mild case of the disease several days after returning to Sydney from a trip to Europe.
Monkeypox is a rare viral infection that does not spread easily between people and whose symptoms include fever, rashes and swollen lymph nodes.
Cases of monkeypox – which is endemic in central or western Africa – have recently appeared in the UK, Spain, Portugal, the United States, Italy, Sweden, France and Canada.
The Melbourne man developed mild symptoms before returning to Melbourne on May 16, according to Victoria’s Department of Health, and immediately sought medical attention.
Tests confirmed he has the rare virus.
He is isolated at the Alfred with mild symptoms.
He and the Sydney man sought help from GPs, who suspected they had monkeypox.
The Sydney man and a family contact are self-isolating at their home.
Tests to confirm the virus are currently underway, with NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard saying it is “very likely” it will be confirmed around the next day.
Victoria Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton reassured the virus does not spread easily between people and usually resolves on its own within two to three weeks.
He said transmission required “direct skin-to-skin contact through broken skin, fluid or pus in lesions, or prolonged face-to-face contact through respiratory transmission”.
Sutton said the symptoms were similar to the flu, before a rash with often itchy or painful lesions appeared on the skin.
Alfred Health infectious disease physician Professor Allen Cheng reassured the public “it’s not COVID”, saying monkeypox is far less infectious than COVID-19.
He said his presence in Melbourne would not have a big impact on the wider community.
Sutton said he would not advise anyone to “put their travel plans on hold”, following the discovery of the virus in the UK and several European countries.
Hazzard said residents should stay “alert” for symptoms of illness if they travel.
“It’s not a major cause for concern in the community.”
NSW Health Director Kerry Chant has asked gay, bisexual and men who have sex with men to be vigilant for symptoms.
“A large proportion of the cases detected abroad concern homosexuals, bisexuals or men who have sex with men,” she said.
“We urge gay, bisexual or men who have sex with men to be aware of any unusual rashes or lesions.
“Be especially vigilant if you are returning from overseas after large parties or sex at overseas premises.”
Victoria’s Department of Health has begun investigating who the infected Melbourne man may have exposed.
Some close contacts will be offered a vaccine, which has been shown to be effective up to four days after potential exposure.
Passengers who were seated near the man on flight EY10 from London to Abu Dhabi on May 14, and flight EY462 from Abu Dhabi to Melbourne, which landed on Monday, are being contacted to be warned to watch for symptoms.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has stated that the symptoms of monkeypox are “very similar to those seen in the past in patients with smallpox, although clinically less severe”.
It is transmitted to humans through close contact with an infected person or animal, the WHO said.
The WHO has stated that vaccines used to eradicate smallpox also provide protection against monkeypox.
“Cases are occasionally reported in non-endemic countries in returning travelers or their close contacts, or in owners of imported pets,” Chant said.
“People can get monkeypox through very close contact with people who have the virus.
“The infection is usually a mild illness and most people recover within a few weeks.”
Health authorities are working to monitor other cases in Australia.
Cases have been identified in non-endemic countries such as the United States, United Kingdom, Spain and Portugal.
There are at least seven cases in Spain, 14 in Portugal, nine in the UK and one case in the US.
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