5 Myths About Monkeypox We Need to Stop Believing
As monkeypox cases increase across the country, various misconceptions about how the disease spreads, who it infects, and how deadly it is are increasing.
Infectious disease myths can have a major impact on public health efforts. In the past, such misunderstandings caused people to underestimate their risk, avoid taking precautions that help prevent transmission, and choose not to get vaccinated.
One of the worst things people can do during a public health emergency is the fuel for myths that cause fear and panic, according to Dr Jorge Salinashospital epidemiologist at Stanford University. Clear and precise Communication can help people understand their personal risk and feel empowered to take protective action.
“We have to stay with the science,” Salinas said.
Here, the HuffPost sets the record straight and corrects some of the misinformation about monkeypox that has been circulating recently.
Myth: Monkeypox is only spread through sex
However monkeypox is not considered a sexually transmitted infection, it is mainly spread by close and intimate contact. But the virus is not only spread through sex.
Monkeypox transmission requires prolonged, often skin-to-skin contact, which you may have with or without having sex. Hugging and cuddling, or even touching bedding and other items that have been used by someone with monkeypox, can put you at risk.
“Is sex required, required, required to get monkeypox? The answer is no,” Salinas said.
Myth: Monkeypox is like COVID-19
While COVID-19 can easily be contracted from aerosols in the air, it is more difficult to catch monkeypox, said Dr. Katherine Baumgarten, Medical Director of Infection Control and Prevention at Ochsner Health. Monkeypox require that close and prolonged contact with skin lesions of an infected person, large respiratory droplets or contaminated objects.
“It’s not COVID-19. It’s not a highly infectious, highly transmissible respiratory virus,” Salinas added.
Salinas doesn’t believe monkeypox is capable of causing the same devastation as COVID-19. Pandemic viruses tend to be highly transmissible respiratory viruses that can spread in the pre-symptomatic phase, making them difficult to control.
That said, monkeypox is still a public health concern and you need to take precautions.
“I’m not saying monkeypox is easy to control, but it’s not as difficult — it’s not in the same stage — as respiratory viruses,” Salinas said.
Myth: Monkeypox only affects a certain population
Monkeypox is primarily spread among men who have sex with men, as well as non-binary individuals and transgender women who have sex with men. The risk is highest in people with multiple sex partners, but anyone intimately exposed to monkeypox can get it.
The virus is not selective about who it infects, Baumgarten said. Instead, it really has to do with the mode of transmission.
Monkeypox seems to be proliferating within this particular social network as it has more opportunities to spread through close contact. But that doesn’t mean the virus can’t penetrate other circles. In fact, it probably already did, but then died out before it had a chance to spread further.
“This virus can be transmitted from person to person through close skin-to-skin contact, regardless of activity or gender,” Salinas said.
Myth: Monkeypox is a new disease that we are fighting
Although monkeypox does not usually break out in endemic regions like these, it is not unheard of. The United States has seen sporadic cases in the past when people traveled to these areas or were exposed to imported animals that were infected.
“It has not been widely transmissible as it has been more recently. But it’s been around for a long time and just hasn’t had a chance to spread through populations like it has now,” Baumgarten said.
Myth: Low death rate means monkeypox doesn’t need to be taken seriously
Very few people die from monkeypox in general, according to Salinas, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention case data indicates that no monkeypox deaths have been confirmed in the current outbreak in the United States.
“The strain circulating at the moment is not very lethal. And in the past, that has only been associated with less than 1% mortality,” Baumgarten said.
The vast majority of people who get monkeypox don’t need hospitalization and can manage their symptoms — which typically include fever, body aches and painful skin lesions — at home, Salinas said.
But even though the disease is usually not life-threatening, it can still be dangerous. In some cases, the lesions can cause vision problems or problems urinating and defecating.
“It’s clinically benign because people don’t die and don’t need to be hospitalized. But at the same time, it can be a serious problem,” Salinas said.