Community cases of monkeypox have been detected in New Zealand for the first time.
Te Whatu Ora (Health New Zealand) announced two new cases of monkeypox (MPX) on Thursday – identified as community transmission – bringing the total number of cases in Aotearoa to date to 11.
The two new cases are isolating in Auckland.
Before now, the country’s nine previously reported cases were overseas during the incubation period, meaning infections were likely acquired overseas.
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There is currently no confirmed link between the two cases, and no identified link to a known overseas acquired case – so Te Whatu Ora and the Ministry of Health consider “there is the potential for more cases to emerge”.
Officials say this is “not unexpected” and the number of cases “is likely to remain low”.
“The general risk remains very low.”
Te Whatu Ora – Auckland medical officer of health Dr Jay Harrower said this is because monkeypox is “hard to transmit” to others, unlike Covid-19, for example.
Monkeypox is transmitted by close (often intimate) contact with skin lesions, body fluids, respiratory droplets and contaminated materials.
Harrower said part of the reason officials are highlighting the cases as community transmission is because “we don’t know the source”, and to ensure the public is alert to symptoms of the disease, regardless of whether they have travelled.
While anyone can get monkeypox, the virus has mostly impacted the MSM community (men who have sex with men) and people who have sex with MSM overseas. There is a higher risk for those communities.
The World Health Organisation’s latest emergency monitoring report, released on October 5, shows 97.5% of cases with available data worldwide were men, with a median age of 35.
Among cases where sexual orientation was reported, 89.9% identified as gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men.
Most people with MPX will develop a rash, spots or blisters at the infection site. These may spread to other parts of the body, such as the palms of the hand, soles of the feet, inside the mouth, or on the genitals.
Other common symptoms can include: cold and flu symptoms such as a fever, chills or swollen glands, headache, muscle and body aches, backache and tiredness.
If you experience skin changes or develop lesions or a rash then it’s important to seek medical advice, even if you haven’t travelled overseas recently. It may not be MPX, as many illnesses can cause similar symptoms, but it’s still important to get it checked, officials advise.
The isolation period can be “quite variable”.
It can take roughly 2-4 weeks on average for the rash to completely clear (lesions have scabbed, crusted over and fallen off, giving way to healthy skin underneath) and a person is considered recovered, Harrower said.
People with concerns about their health in relation to MPX should contact their GP, nearest sexual health clinic or Healthline 0800 611 116.
Public health staff are following usual contact tracing procedures in assessing any risk of further transmission, Te Whatu Ora said.
To protect the privacy of these people and their contacts, no further detail would be provided, and the next planned outbreak update will be next Thursday.
There have been 68,900 laboratory-confirmed cases of MPX and 25 deaths across 106 countries in this outbreak to date.
Globally, the number of new weekly cases declined 16.8% in the week ending October 2, with 7147 new cases reported worldwide between September 26 and October 2.