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%, it was nowhere near as contagious.
Monkeypox Outbreak in Australia
“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% of contacts of a monkeypox case will be infected.”
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 en 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% 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.”