Australia reports first monkeypox case in traveller from Britain

Australia has recorded its first official case of monkeypox in Victoria, with another suspected infection identified in NSW.

The Victorian health department confirmed a case of the rare tropical illness on Friday afternoon in a returned traveller from the United Kingdom.

The man in his 30s developed mild symptoms before arriving in Melbourne on May 16 and sought medical attention almost immediately.

A general practitioner referred him for testing, which came back positive, and he was placed in isolation at The Alfred on Thursday.

"There are very few close contacts that have been identified, obviously the GP is one of them," Victoria's Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton told reporters on Friday.

His close contacts may need to quarantine and some will be offered the smallpox vaccine.

Contact tracing is also underway for passengers seated near the man on flight EY10 from London to Abu Dhabi on May 15 and flight EY462 from Abu Dhabi to Melbourne on May 16.

They are being asked to monitor for flu-like symptoms and only isolate if they develop.

Professor Sutton said suspected monkeypox clusters in Europe and North America appear to be linked to West Africa.

"That is a milder version of this monkeypox virus but it still has serious case fatality rates so between one and five per cent," he said.

NSW Health has also detected a possible case of monkeypox in a man in his 40s who recently returned from Europe.

The man developed a mild illness several days after returning from Europe, with his GP assessing his symptoms to be similar to the disease.

Confirmation testing is underway and the man and a household contact are isolating at home, NSW Health said.

"We have a very likely case, to be confirmed in the next day or so, of monkey virus," NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard said in Sydney.

Australia joins Italy, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Spain, Portugal and the United States as nations dealing with outbreaks.

Monkeypox occurs mainly in central and western Africa, often close to tropical rainforests, and is considered endemic in the Democratic Republic of Congo where it was discovered in humans in 1970.

The illness can be transmitted from person to person through air droplets, close bodily contact or sharing contaminated linens or objects.

Four African countries - Cameroon, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo and Nigeria - have reported cases of monkeypox in 2022.

NSW Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant said monkeypox is a rare virus and does not spread easily between people.

She said a large number of overseas cases were among gay and bisexual men and urged those men to "be aware of any unusual rashes or lesions" and to contact their GP or a sexual health clinic if concerned.

She said people should be "particularly vigilant" if they had returned to Australia after attending large parties or sex-on-premises venues overseas.

"The infection is usually a mild illness and most people recover within a few weeks," she said.

The general public and health clinics should be aware and have unusual skin rashes examined by specialist staff, the World Health Organisation said.

The WHO also called for vigorous contact tracing around the spate of cases.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said state health authorities are closely monitoring the situation and he'd been advised the virus was less contagious than Covid-19.

"We should be taking this seriously (but) at the same time I would say that no one should be alarmed at this point," Mr Morrison told reporters in Perth.

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