Warning signs for monkeypox shouldn't be ignored - expert

A health expert is urging New Zealanders to not ignore the warning signs when it comes to monkeypox.

Zoonotic disease expert David Hayman said his colleagues have been warning about a monkeypox outbreak for a while and, like COVID-19, this is serious and warnings from scientists should not be ignored.

   "Smallpox and related poxviruses are a serious public health concern. Smallpox was hideous, and there are some clades of the monkeypox virus that you'd be more worried about," professor Hayman said.

The World Health Organization (WHO) declared monkeypox a global public health emergency earlier this month.

There have been more than 16,000 confirmed cases of monkeypox in more than 75 countries, but the WHO suspects the number of cases is much higher.

Hayman said the reason the outbreak has emerged is probably that it has gotten into the community with lots of close contacts.

"There is a possibility there is something happening with the virus's evolutionary rate and transmissibility, but my suspicion is that it is more to do with the closeness of the community it is spreading in."

Hayman said it is important to remember that the more transmissible the virus is, the more it is likely to spread.

"What's important to remember is the more transmissions there are, the more opportunity there is for the virus to mutate and evolve, and that is what can lead to more transmissibility - as we have seen with the Omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus."

He also said if people listen to scientists and don't ignore the signs, it shouldn't be a problem for New Zealand.

"The reason this outbreak shouldn't be a problem is that it's a vaccine-preventable disease, and we have the vaccine already. At the minute the vaccines should work, and the estimate is around 85 percent efficacy."

He said the issue is countries who are stockpiling the vaccines to give to other countries and that it makes him wonder why they haven't been used earlier to prevent transmission in countries where it is endemic.

"This shouldn't be keeping us up at night, it should be controllable, but we don't want it to be allowed to continue to transmit and adapt."

The Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said in a press conference on Wednesday that they are working on getting the vaccine for monkeypox and discussions with drug-buying agency Pharmac are going well.

"The point here being we have got no active community cases and vaccination might play a role but it's not the first measure we would implement if we did have any community spread of monkeypox," Dr Bloomfield said.

There have been two monkeypox cases in New Zealand so far, but both of these are considered to have recovered.