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HEALTH

UPDATED: Monkeypox in Austria: What causes it and is it serious?

After Austria confirmed its first case of monkeypox in Vienna at the weekend, the Ministry of Health has now recommended quarantine rules for close contacts with symptoms. Here is what you need to know about the disease.

UPDATED: Monkeypox in Austria: What causes it and is it serious?
This 2003 electron microscope image made available by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows mature, oval-shaped monkeypox virions. Photo: Cynthia S. Goldsmith, Russell Regner/CDC/AP

Editor’s note: in September 2022, Austria received doses of a monkeypox vaccine. You can read more about this here: EXPLAINED: How to register for the monkeypox vaccine in Vienna.

A 35-year-old man was confirmed as the first case of monkeypox in Austria this Sunday, 22nd, according to Viennese medical authorities.

The man is isolated in a clinic in the Favoriten district and “is doing well under the circumstances”, health authorities said. On Sunday, the patient went to the clinic with a slight fever and isolated skin lesions.

This is the first case in Austria of a “multi-country monkeypox outbreak in non-endemic countries”, as the World Health Organisation (WHO) says.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How Austria’s compulsory vaccine mandate could be back in June

The monkeypox virus is well known but endemic to isolated regions in Africa. Experts are still unsure why the disease has been spreading outside of Africa in people with no connection to the affected areas.

What is monkeypox?

Monkeypox, Affenpocken in German, is a zoonotic virus (a virus spread from animals to humans) that most often occurs in areas of tropical rainforest in Central and West Africa. However, it is occasionally found in other regions, and cases have recently been discovered in Europe, North America, and Australia.

The name monkeypox originates from the initial discovery of the virus in monkeys in a Danish laboratory in 1958, according to WHO. The first human case was identified in a child in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1970.

READ ALSO: Everything foreigners need to know about the Austrian healthcare system

How is it transmitted?

Monkeypox virus is transmitted from one person to another by close contact with lesions, body fluids, respiratory droplets and contaminated materials such as bedding. The incubation period of monkeypox is usually from 6 to 13 days but can range from 5 to 21 days.

People can also be infected through contact with the lesions of the skin, blood, tissues, or excretions of infected animals (mainly rodents) and by handling the meat of sick animals.

The disease is not known to be sexually transmitted. Still, close contact between people during sex can make the transmission of the virus easier.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: What is Austria’s ‘tick vaccine’, and should you take it?

Many of the cases presented are in men who have sexual relations with other men and health authorities have asked for extra care and are studying current cases.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms of monkeypox include fever, headache, muscle aches, swollen lymph nodes, chills, and exhaustion. In addition, a rash similar to chickenpox typically develops, often starting on the face and spreading to other parts of the body, including the genitals.

Monkeypox typically has an incubation period of six to 16 days, but it can be as long as 21 days. Once lesions have scabbed over and fallen off, the person with the virus is no longer infectious.

READ ALSO: ‘Mysterious hepatitis’: Everything we know so far about the new cases in Austria

Monkeypox is usually self-limiting, and people recover in a few weeks, but it may be severe in some individuals, such as children, pregnant women, or persons with immune suppression due to other health conditions.

What are the guidelines from the Ministry of Health?

On Tuesday May 24th, Austria’s Ministry of Health published a set of guidelines, including a three-week quarantine for close contacts of positive cases that are showing symptoms.

The isolation period can be completed at home or at hospital, depending on the state of health of the patient.

Furthermore, contacts of a positive case will be treated as either Type I or Type II in a move similar to the management of Covid-19 contacts.

Type I contacts are considered as high-risk and include those who have had direct contact with skin lesions of an infected person, such as sexual partners, but also close passengers on planes, buses or trains for a period of at least eight hours. 

High-risk contacts do not have to isolate straight away but must monitor their condition for 21 days through a daily phone call with the health authorities. If symptoms occur, then the person has to quarantine for three weeks and a PCR test has to be carried out.

Type II contacts are short social contacts, such as work colleagues (not in the same office), or fleeting contacts in gyms, saunas or bathrooms. These contacts must monitor their health for 21 days.

How can I protect myself and others?

There is no specific vaccine against this virus that would be widely available, but the common smallpox vaccine already offers high protection and is recommended for close contacts and health workers.

“Historically, vaccination against smallpox had been shown to be protective against monkeypox. While one vaccine (MVA-BN) and one specific treatment (tecovirimat) were approved for monkeypox, in 2019 and 2022 respectively, these countermeasures are not yet widely available.”, according to the World Health Organisation.

READ ALSO: More pay and longer holidays: How Austria hopes to attract 75,000 new nurses

For now, there are no large vaccination campaigns for smallpox, and WHO is convening experts to discuss recommendations on vaccination.

“Steps for self-protection include avoiding skin to skin or face to face contact with anyone who has symptoms, practising safer sex, keeping hands clean with water and soap or alcohol-based hand rub, and maintaining respiratory etiquette”, according to the World Health Organisation.

If people develop a rash, accompanied by fever or a feeling of discomfort or illness, they should contact their health care provider and get tested for monkeypox, the organisation added.

READ ALSO: Reader question: Do I need to wear a mask on flights to/from Austria?

If someone is suspected or confirmed as having monkeypox, they should isolate until the scabs have fallen off and abstain from sex, including oral sex.

During this period, patients can get supportive treatment to ease monkeypox symptoms.

Anyone caring for a person sick with monkeypox should use appropriate personal protective measures, including wearing a mask and cleaning objects and surfaces that have been touched.

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HEALTH

Reader question: How to get a flu vaccination in Austria?

Austrian doctors and virologists have warned of a particularly strong flu wave this winter and recommend that people get vaccinated. Here's how to get the shot in each province.

Reader question: How to get a flu vaccination in Austria?

Austrian experts have said there would likely be an exceptionally high wave of the flu after hardly any cases were registered in the past two years. The measures against Covid-19 prevented infections with Sars-CoV-2 – and curbed the spread of influenza and other cold viruses.

This is about to change this season as Covid measures were relaxed and airborne viruses spread again, they said.

In principle, the influenza vaccination protects against symptomatic infection for four months: “About 80 percent for H1 viruses, about 50 to 60 percent for H3 strains and 60 to 70 percent for B viruses,” said Monika Redlberger-Fritz, a virologist from Med-Uni Vienna.

READ ALSO: Colds and flu: What to do and say if you get sick in Austria

She added: “But even with vaccine breakthroughs, you are still very well protected against complications, hospitalisations and death.”

Unlike the Covid-19 vaccination, the flu jab is not organised by the federal government but by the respective provinces, which file a report only after the flu season. In every province, the vaccine is free for children, but many ask adults to pay for a fee or get it from their doctors. In Vienna, the flu vaccination is free for everyone.

Here is how to get the vaccine in each province in campaigns carried out with the participation or knowledge of the government – companies and private insurance institutions can also start their own vaccination campaigns.

Vienna

Vienna offers free flu vaccinations for every resident. You can register online with the impfservice.wien or visit one of the centres that accept people without appointments (for example, the Austria Center Vienna). 

All that is necessary is for you to bring a document with your picture and wear an FFP2 mask. If you have an e-card and a vaccination passport, bring those with you as well. There is also a form to fill out, but those are available on-site.  

Lower Austria

The flu vaccine is free for children from six months to 15-years-old, and they can get the shot from established medical specialists. For those who are older, it is possible to receive the vaccination from a registered specialist, company medical service or from their employer, but they may be charged for it.

Residents of elderly and care homes get the vaccination free of charge in the facility where they live.

You can check more about the vaccination with your family doctor and paediatrician.

Upper Austria

Children aged six months to 15 can get the vaccine for free with their general practitioners and paediatricians. However, you may need to get the vaccine components at the pharmacy with a voucher and register with your doctor.

Older people can get the vaccination directly at vaccination sites in their district for €15. Residents of elderly and care homes get the vaccination free of charge in the facility where they live.

Styria

In Styria, children from six months to age 15 get the vaccine for free with paediatricians or public health services of their district authorities.  Older adults can get it from the public health service for €16 or €27 if they are older than 65. 

Residents of elderly and care homes get the vaccination free of charge in the facility where they live.

You can check more about the vaccination with your family doctor and paediatrician.

Carinthia

Children (from six months to 15 years) can get the vaccine for free in doctor’s offices or public health centres. You can check HERE for more information and register. For older people, the price is €22, though prices could be different if you go to your doctor instead of a vaccination centre.

Residents of elderly and care homes get the vaccination free of charge in the facility where they live.

Burgenland

Children aged six months to 15 years can get the vaccine free in pharmacies and with their physicians. At-risk patients older than that can also get free vaccines, but only while supplies last. 

Otherwise, buying and paying for the vaccine in a pharmacy or with your general practitioner is possible. There are also free vaccinations in elderly and care homes. 

You can check more about the vaccination with your family doctor and paediatrician.

Salzburg

Children from six months to 15 years can get the vaccine free with any doctor offering it. You can check with your family doctor or paediatrician. Anyone over 15 that wants to get it needs to buy it at a pharmacy (prices vary depending on the vaccine used) and can ask their family doctor. 

There are free vaccinations for residents of elderly and care homes. 

You can read more about the vaccination offer in Salzburg HERE.

Tyrol

The flu vaccine is free for children from six months to the age of 15 years, and they can get it directly from their doctor (a general practitioner or a paediatrician, for example). For those older, it’s possible to vaccinate with their family doctors, but prices vary for the product and pharmacies and the doctor’s fee. 

Residents of elderly and nursing homes aged 60 and over get the vaccination free of charge.

You can read more about the vaccination offer in Tyrol HERE.

Vorarlberg

In Vorarlberg, children aged six months to 15 years can get the vaccine free with their doctors. Adults can also get it from general practitioner’s offices but will need to pay variable costs (depending on doctor fees and which vaccine they choose).

There are free vaccinations for residents of elderly and care homes. 

You can read more about the vaccination offer in Vorarlberg HERE.

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