Photo by Gustavo Fring
We know there has been rumors and many are wondering... Does monkeypox only spread among gay, bisexual, or other men who have sex with men?
The answer is No! Monkeypox, like any other virus (including Covid), does not discriminate and anyone can be infected by it.
To help you understand better, let's talk about what Monkeypox is, how it is spread, and some of its symptoms.
Monkeypox and its transmission
Monkeypox is caused by the…yes, monkeypox virus. Do you know that it is from the same family of viruses as smallpox and cowpox?
This virus can be spread through close and direct physical skin-to-skin contact from an animal, person, or any material that has already been contaminated with the virus. Fortunately, the symptoms of monkeypox are similar and more mild compared to the symptoms of smallpox. However unlike smallpox, Monkeypox does cause lymph nodes to swell and the time taken for symptoms to show ranges from either 7 to 14 days, or 5 to 21 days.
According to CDC, the symptoms are:
Rashes with blisters on the face, hands, feet, eyes, mouth and/or genitals
Swollen lymph nodes
Within the next 1 to 3 days from being infected, or sometimes longer, patients will start experiencing and developing rashes that will start from the face before being spread to the other parts of the body. The rash could be extremely itchy or painful, eventually forming a scab and then falling off, causing scarring. This entire process usually lasts for 2 to 4 weeks.
Now that what's Monkeypox has been explained, let us dive deeper into the recent events of the stigma that has been going on around Monkeypox and men who have sex with men!
Monkeypox is NOT a gay disease
Due to the recent increase of monkeypox cases among gay, bisexual men, and men who have sex with men in the UK, it has caused a stir in the public. This led to false rumors and misleading information that it can only be spread between men who have sex with men, causing and creating the stigma that monkeypox is a “gay disease”.
Based on the information above on Monkeypox transmission that is also backed by WHO, anyone can get monkeypox. In fact, as long as you have been in close contact with someone who has been infected, you will be at risk.
If that is the case, “Why are the recent high monkeypox cases only observed in the men who have sex with men community?”, you may ask. Well, as mentioned above, monkeypox can be passed through direct skin-to-skin contact and is more likely to be introduced and spread through the community among those who have already been infected or are in close contact with an infected person. Hence, in this situation, the virus was already introduced to the men who have sex with men community and was further spread due to the people being in close contact in close quarters.
Another reason that gives the virus an opportunity to circulate is in situations where people meet for sex. As monkeypox can be spread through direct contact, this meant that as long as any form of sexual activity is done with someone who has it, there is a high chance of it passing on. Sexual activity includes kissing, touching, oral, penetrative sex, and using items (e.g., sex toys, clothes, bedding) that are contaminated.
It does not mean that monkeypox is an STD, as the transmission is not just limited to sexual contact. This also means...using protection or barrier methods such as condoms during sexual interaction will not help to lessen the risk of getting monkeypox.
What you can do to protect yourself and others
Now that you know monkeypox can be transmitted through skin-to-skin contact, here are 2 things you can do to protect yourself.
Practice hand hygiene: practice hand hygiene such as washing your hands with soap and water or using alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
Avoid close contact with anyone having symptoms: avoid being in contact or close contact with anyone that are showing signs of monkeypox, and if anyone that you know is having similar symptoms, do encourage them to isolate themselves.
Isolate yourself if having symptoms: if you are seeing symptoms of monkeypox on yourself, do isolate yourself and give a call to your local healthcare providers to ask for help!
Remember, monkeypox is a disease that does not discriminate, and anyone regardless of their sexuality can get monkeypox. It is never right to stigmatised people because of a disease.