What you need to know about the latest mpox outbreak

At the end of April the Victorian Department of Health reported three new cases of mpox (formerly known as monkeypox).   

Mpox is mainly spread from close contact between people, which, in a lot of cases, means it’s passed on during sex.  Most cases in Australia and in Victoria have been among gay, bi and other men who have sex with men. 

Free vaccination is available to people at increased risk.   

So what do people with HIV need to know about this latest outbreak? 

While the number of new cases in this outbreak is small, it is concerning because contact tracing efforts have not found any links between these cases or links to overseas travel.  This lack of connection suggests that there could be cases of mpox circulating in the community. 

It has been two years since the first cases of mpox in Australia were discovered.  Since then we have learned more about how it’s transmitted, the symptoms associated with mpox, and what we need to do to prevent mpox.   

Over the last two years a number of studies have shown that people with HIV are at higher risk of more severe mpox infection.   It’s important to be careful when reading these studies because many of the people included in the research lived in countries with lower access to mpox vaccination and HIV treatments than we have here in Australia.   

While it’s still possible for some people to get mpox after being fully vaccinated, the cases that have been seen have had very mild symptoms, with lesions being described as similar to small pimples.  It’s important to remember that mpox infection starts with flu-like symptoms before any lesions happen.  

While there isn’t any clear evidence that people with HIV in Australia are at higher risk of complications than HIV negative people, we do know that a lower immune response to the mpox vaccination has been seen in people with HIV.  

What about the mpox vaccine? 

Mpox vaccinations are free for all sexually active gay and bisexual men (cis and trans) and their sexual partners, as well as sex workers. The vaccination is also free to anyone who has been exposed to mpox and is effective for up to 4 days post-exposure.  

The mpox vaccine is effective at either preventing mpox or really reducing the severity if people do actually get it. In the last two years many eligible people received one dose of the vaccine, but two doses are required for complete coverage and relatively few people have received their second dose.   

One dose is good, but two doses is much better.  It doesn’t matter if its been a while since your first dose, the second dose will provide the best possible coverage.  

There is currently no evidence that a booster dose provides any more protection once the two doses are completed.  

It doesn’t matter if people only had one dose of the vaccine last year or the year before, the second dose is still effective and worth having. 

It’s possible that some of us didn’t get around to having our second dose because we’d been through several years of vaccinations and booster doses for other infections already. But now is a great time to go back for another dose.  

Also of course remember when traveling that vaccine coverage is definitely better here in Australia than in many countries that you might be visiting. 

Learn more

Vaccination info thorneharbour.org/sexual-health/mpox 

For more information please refer to the MPX page on the Victorian Department of Health website. 

Listen to LPV CEO Richard Keane Chat with James McKenzie during 3CR Radio’s queer news show In Ya Face

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