Mpox is a viral disease that can be transmitted by close contact with skin lesions, body fluids, respiratory droplets, and contaminated materials.
Community transmission has been identified in several areas in New Zealand including the Auckland and Wellington regions. While anyone can get mpox, overseas it has mostly impacted the MSM (men who have sex with men) community and people who have sex or other intimate skin to skin contact with MSM. The general risk of contracting mpox in New Zealand remains low.
Mpox is a notifiable disease in New Zealand, meaning public health need to be informed by a health professional if someone is suspected or confirmed as having the virus.
If you think you may have been exposed to mpox or if you develop symptoms, especially a rash, you should stay home and contact a sexual health clinic, your local health care provider or Healthline on 0800 611 116 (interpreter services are available).
Mpox symptoms can include a rash or other skin changes such as lesions - lumps or bumps that can turn into pimples, blisters or sores. Some people also develop cold and flu symptoms, including a fever or swollen glands.
If you develop symptoms stay home and seek advice. Many illnesses can cause similar symptoms so it may not be mpox, but it’s important to get help.
Contact a sexual health clinic for free advice, call your GP, or ring Healthline for free anytime on 0800 611 116.
People most at risk
While anyone can get mpox, the current global outbreak has disproportionately impacted:
- men who have sex with men (MSM)
- people who have sex with MSM. This may include people of any gender or sexual identity, whether they are transgender or cisgender, and non-binary people
- anyone with two or more sexual partners or any anonymous sexual partners.
There is higher risk for these communities and they are advised to be mindful of mpox symptoms and see their primary care provider or sexual health if they develop symptoms.
How mpox spreads
Mpox can be passed on by:
- Close physical, intimate or sexual contact with someone who has mpox, via skin-to-skin contact
- Direct contact with the skin rashes, lesions, scabs or bodily fluids of someone with mpox
- Touching clothing, bedding or towels used by someone with a mpox rash
While rare, mpox can also be passed on through breathing in droplets exhaled by someone who has the virus. As this requires prolonged contact and for people to be very close together the risk of the virus spreading in this way is very low.
People are normally infectious and can pass on the virus from when they first develop symptoms, up until their lesions or scabs crust, dry and fall off. This will normally span around two to four weeks.
In countries where mpox is endemic (e.g. Western Africa) animals can carry the virus and pass it on to humans through contact. When travelling to a country where mpox is endemic it’s important to avoid contact with animals especially any that are sick or have been found dead.
Testing and consultation for mpox is free for anyone with mpox symptoms who meets testing criteria or has been asked to test for mpox. Tests can be carried out at a general practice, sexual health clinic, after hours or urgent care clinic. You cannot get an mpox test from a COVID-19 Community Testing Centre.
People who are not NZ residents (including international students, seasonal workers and visitors) will also be able to access mpox testing and consultation free of charge.
Make sure you call ahead so the provider can prepare for your arrival.
The test for mpox involves swabs of any lesions on your skin and/or a throat swab and sometimes a blood test. The tests need to be carried out by a health professional.
You may need to stay home and self-isolate while you’re waiting for your result, depending on your symptoms and circumstance at the time the test is taken. It’s recommended people avoid direct physical contact with others until test results are received.
It normally takes around 48 hours to get a result from the test. If the test shows you have mpox, a public health professional will be in touch to provide further advice.
Preventing the spread of mpox
To reduce the risk of catching mpox:
- check you’re feeling healthy and have no mpox symptoms before having close physical or sexual skin-to-skin contact with others
- avoid close physical or sexual skin-to-skin contact with someone who has mpox or mpox symptoms
- avoid direct contact with the skin rashes, lesions or scabs, or bodily fluids (eg, saliva) of someone with mpox
- avoid physical contact with the clothing, bedding or towels of a person with mpox
- swap contact details with the people you have close physical or sexual contact with, so if either of you develop mpox symptoms you can let each other know
- consider having fewer casual sexual partners for a while and space sexual contacts a bit more, to give time for symptoms to show before you have close contact with someone new.
For more tips on sex positive ways to reduce your risk visit Burnett Foundation Aotearoa.
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