Information about the mpox virus, cases in New Zealand, how mpox spreads, symptoms, testing and how to prevent the spread of mpox.
Last updated: 25 January 2023
On this page
Mpox, also known as monkeypox, is a viral disease that can be transmitted by close contact with skin lesions (lumps or bumps that can turn into pimples, blisters or sores), body fluids (eg, saliva), respiratory droplets and contaminated materials. mpox is zoonotic, which means it can pass between animals and humans.
Mpox was first identified in humans in 1970 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and has been endemic in Western and Central Africa for many years.
A global mpox outbreak commenced in May 2022. Cases have now been reported in more than 100 countries. See mpox outbreak 2022 on the World Health Organization website.
1 new case of mpox in New Zealand – 41 confirmed cases in total
- There is 1 new case to report as at 9am on 12 January 2023.
- The total number of confirmed cases as reported on 12 January 2023 is 41. This includes ten cases with infections acquired overseas and 31 identified as community transmission.
- The general risk remains very low. While anyone can get mpox, New Zealand’s outbreak so far has mostly affected people who have multiple or anonymous sexual partners, particularly men who have sex with men and their sexual partners.
Mpox is a rare infection and the risk of it spreading widely in New Zealand remains low as it is not very contagious.
Mpox is generally transmitted through:
- close physical, intimate or sexual contact with someone who has mpox, via skin-to-skin contact
- direct contact with the skin rashes, lesions or scabs, or bodily fluids (eg, saliva) of someone with mpox
- touching the clothing, bedding or towels used by someone with an mpox rash.
Mpox can also be passed on through breathing in droplets that have been 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. It is uncertain whether mpox is also spread through other bodily fluids (eg, semen).
Mpox has the potential to pass between animals and humans, although this is extremely rare.
People most at risk
Typically, a person with mpox is infectious and can pass the virus on to others from when they first develop symptoms until their lesions or scabs crust, dry or fall off. The infectious period will normally last for around two to four weeks.
Outside of very close contacts, the virus is not very contagious and the risk of the virus spreading widely remains low. While anyone can get mpox, New Zealand’s outbreak so far has mostly affected people of any gender who have multiple or anonymous sexual partners. Men who have sex with men and their sexual partners have been disproportionately impacted. There is higher risk for these people.
Most people with mpox will develop a rash or other skin changes on the infection site such as lesions – lumps or bumps that can turn into pimples, blisters or sores. These may spread to other parts of the body such as the palms of the hand, soles of the feet, inside the mouth, or on the genitals.
Other common symptoms can include:
- cold and flu symptoms such as a fever, chills or swollen glands
- muscle and body aches
The rash associated with mpox may be generalised or localised and typically progresses through four stages:
- macular – flat, discoloured lesions
- papular – solid, raised lesions
- vesicular – fluid-filled lesions
- pustular – pus-filled lesions.
Once the rash associated with mpox has progressed through these stages, the lesions typically turn to scabs that will crust, dry or fall off.
Mpox symptoms usually resolve by themselves within two to four weeks.
If you think you may have been exposed to mpox or if you develop symptoms, especially a rash, you should stay home, self-isolate and seek medical advice.
You can contact your nearest sexual health clinic, your GP, or Healthline free on 0800 611 116, which offers interpreter services. When your call is answered, you can say you'd like an interpreter and the language you’d like to speak in.
If you need to visit a medical practice or hospital for care, you should call ahead before visiting to let them know you are coming and tell them about your symptoms. To avoid passing on mpox to others, wear a well-fitted medical mask, cover any rashes or blisters on your skin, and travel via private transport.
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.
Mpox is tested for by swabbing the rash, skin lesions or other sites such as the throat. The test needs to be carried out by a healthcare professional and cannot be done by a patient themselves. 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.
Positive cases are then referred to the local Public Health Unit who will contact affected people to provide them with support and guidance. Many diseases cause similar symptoms so it may not be mpox, but it’s important to get checked.
Be mindful if you have travelled internationally
While anyone can get mpox, New Zealand’s outbreak so far has mostly affected people who have multiple or anonymous sexual partners, particularly men who have sex with men and their sexual partners.
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.
Be mindful if you have travelled internationally. People travelling to countries where mpox is endemic (eg, Western Africa) should also avoid contact with any animals that could harbour the virus, especially any that are sick or have been found dead in areas where mpox occurs.
Safe sex advice
While wearing a condom is good safe sex practice, it does not necessarily prevent mpox transmission. This is because mpox can also be passed from person to through physical or sexual skin-to-skin contact, contact with a mpox case’s lesions, or contact with clothing, bedding or towels used by someone with mpox.
See also What to do if you develop mpox symptoms.
Infection prevention and control measures
Infection prevention and control measures can reduce the risk of transmission of mpox. The measures include isolation, hand hygiene, appropriate use of personal protective equipment (PPE), cleaning, and management of laundry and rubbish.
- people isolating at home
- people isolating in accommodation
- accommodation providers
- sex-on-premises venues
- healthcare providers and health settings
Mpox has the potential to pass between animals and humans, although this is extremely rare.
As a precautionary measure, anyone who is a probable or confirmed mpox case should avoid close contact with animals, including domestic animals at home (such as cats, dogs, and ferrets), livestock, and other captive animals, as well as wildlife. People with mpox should be particularly vigilant around animals known to be susceptible to the mpox virus such as rodents.
It is also important to ensure that all rubbish, including medical waste, is not accessible to rodents and other scavenger animals and is disposed of in a safe manner.
More information is available from the World Organisation for Animal Health.
From 16 January 2023, designated mpox consultation clinics became available at approximately 40 locations across Aotearoa for people who may be at higher risk of contracting mpox.
Anyone who thinks they may be at risk of mpox can complete a free risk assessment or ring the mpox Healthline on 0800 116 672 between 8am and 8pm.
Depending on the outcome of your assessment, you may be offered a free consultation with a medical practitioner at a dedicated mpox clinic.
At these consultation clinics health professionals will discuss the risk of exposure to mpox, and options, including benefits and risks.
Charges for mpox testing and treatment
If you have mpox symptoms
- Testing for mpox is free and patients will not be charged any consultation fee at their GP, primary health provider or sexual health clinic.
- If you test positive for mpox, any treatment offered will be free.
- Note that you cannot get an mpox test from a COVID-19 Community Testing Centre.
If you don’t have mpox symptoms
If you don’t have mpox symptoms, and are concerned you might be at risk of mpox, you can complete a free initial assessment by:
- using this free risk assessment tool
- calling the mpox Healthline on 0800 116 672 between 8am and 8pm.
Depending on the outcome of your assessment, you may be offered a free consultation with a medical practitioner at a dedicated mpox clinic. At these consultation clinics health professionals will discuss the risk of exposure to mpox, and options, including benefits and risks.
If you don’t have mpox symptoms and are concerned you might be at risk of mpox and choose to visit a GP, Urgent Care Clinic or After-Hours Clinic, normal consultation fees may apply.
For free advice, ring the mpox Healthline on 0800 116 672 between 8am and 8pm.