It's only a matter of time before monkeypox makes its way to New Zealand - experts

The virus has already been detected in Europe, the United States, Canada and Australia.
The virus has already been detected in Europe, the United States, Canada and Australia. Photo credit: Getty Images

Monkeypox is a virus usually only detected in Africa, however, is now making its way closer to New Zealand, from Europe to Canada to the United States and now right across the ditch in Australia. 

Experts are now warning it is only a matter of time before the virus reaches New Zealand.

Monkeypox is a relative of smallpox which was eradicated through mass vaccination a few decades ago, meaning most people born before 1970 are likely to be vaccinated against smallpox.

The virus gives flu-like symptoms and the appearance of rashes, and has an incubation period of six to 13 days.

"Watch out for people starting with flu-like symptoms, negative for COVID-19 and then developing a rash a few days later," Associate Professor of Epidemiology at the University of Canterbury Arindam Basu said.

Prof Basu said the recent resurgence should raise concerns in New Zealand because the current cases may be 'epidemic'.

"If this is true, then it should raise concerns about their identification in other parts of the world, notably in New Zealand as well, as we are now connected to the rest of the world with borders reopening," Prof Basu said.

Infectious disease and sexual health physician Dr Massimo Giola said the rash and lesions could be mistaken for syphilis as they look the same. The only difference is monkeypox lesions seem to be "exquisitely painful". 

Dr Giola says while there are still questions about whether monkeypox is sexually transmitted, the virus transmits through droplets and silva, but could also transmit through skin to skin contact if the infected person has skin lesions.

"There are a few diseases like this that, given the right circumstances, behave like sexually transmitted diseases even though they're not normally classified in that group," Dr Giloa said.

He says it is only a matter of time before New Zealand detects its very first case.

Most of the cases at the moment have occurred in homosexual and bisexual men.

Dr Giola said homosexual and bisexual men have been shown in studies to have more sexual partners than heterosexual men and due to the stigma and discrimination they face, some men may be reluctant to come forward for health screening.

He said homosexual and bisexual men are also more likely to travel due to having more disposable income and less likely to have kids, making it very easy for the disease to quickly spread internationally.

"By the time this cluster had been detected, it's very likely that monkeypox was already across the four continents."

However, Dr Giola says the good news is there are two different strains of the virus: the West African strain and the one detected in this outbreak - which is the milder strain.