Stop linking monkeypox to gay and bisexual men, disease experts say: This virus spreads through contact, no matter who you are

Stop linking monkeypox to gay and bisexual men, disease experts say: This virus spreads through contact, no matter who you are
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  • Several dozen cases of monkeypox have been diagnosed in Europe, North America and Australia.
  • The disease mainly strikes young men who have sex with men, but this does not mean that it is sexually transmitted.
  • Experts are studying whether it really is a more infectious version of monkeypox, or whether it has just infiltrated tight-knit populations.

Monkeypox is spreading, and it is spreading much faster than usual.

This month, more than 140 confirmed and suspected cases have been detected in a dozen countries in Europe, North America and Oceania. The first was diagnosed in UK May 7and the number of confirmed cases there has rapidly doubled in the past two days, from nine infections May 18 at 20 infections May 20.

Other cases of monkeypox have recently been confirmed scattered across the United States, Australia, Spain, Italy, Germany, Portugal and Sweden – the list of countries is growing day by day.

One of the troubling things disease experts have noticed with this outbreak is that not all patients have a clear connection to each other. They have not all traveled to countries where the disease is endemic, such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria or Cameroon, and they have not all been in contact with people who have recently visited the regions. West and Central Africa where animals such as rodents harbor this virus.

But one thing public health experts have noticed is that most of the infected patients — in fact all but one of the patients whose gender has been revealed so far — are men.

This does not mean that we are dealing with a new form of monkeypox, which only infects men or is sexually transmitted between men who have sex with men. It’s still early days for disease investigators, who are researching exactly how genetically linked these cases of monkeypox may be and how they could spread from person to person. For now, experts are divided on whether we should place much weight on the fact that most recently diagnosed monkeypox patients outside of Africa have been men.

Why some health officials focus on men who have sex with men

Professor Jimmy Whitworth, an infectious disease expert at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, told Insider that “we urgently need to find out” if this version of monkeypox is spreading in a new way.

Typically, monkeypox is spread from person to person through extremely close contact. The virus can be picked up on surfaces, from bedding, clothing or respiratory excretions, but it is especially easy to transmit through skin-to-skin contact.

“You can imagine that a female person living in the same house, sharing utensils etc. with someone incubating her could get it, but we haven’t seen that so far,” said Whitworth. “That’s what makes us kind of suspect that maybe it’s sexually transmitted, and we need to find out. Because if it is, it’s new – it’s never been seen before.”

CDC monkeypox expert says aspect of sexuality is red herring

Epidemiologist Andrea McCollum, of the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has been sent to investigate outbreaks of monkeypox for years, in at least four different African countries. She says nothing seems strange to her about how the disease is spreading – at least not yet.

“While there are a lot of questions right now about specific populations of concern and how this may spread, I think it’s very consistent with what we know about the virus,” she said. told Insider. “We know that this virus spreads through very close contact.”

This contact can be with another person’s saliva, blood, or smallpox – the rashes people get with monkeypox are incredibly contagious.

Symptoms of one of the first known cases of the monkeypox virus are shown on a patient's hand, June 5, 2003. The CDC said the viral monkeypox disease, thought to be spread by prairie dogs , was detected in the Americas for the first time with approximately 20 cases reported in Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana.

A monkeypox outbreak in several US states in 2003 spread via prairie dogs.

CDC/Getty Images

“Pus, scabs – all those legions are full of a ton of virus,” McCollum said. “On first pass, it appears to be a virus strain closely related to what we knew was circulating in West Africa for the past two years.”

Typically, monkeypox rashes tend to occur on the face, palms of the hands, and soles of the feet. But the Swedish health authorities said Thursday that “in European cases, skin problems were often reported to be localized to the genitals, groin, and skin around the anal opening”.

“Monkey pox is not a gay disease”

Public health experts and virologists say the focus on gay men contracting monkeypox is “unfortunately reminiscent” of some of the first reports of HIV and AIDS 40 years ago.

“Monkey pox is not a homosexual disease, and neither is any other infectious disease,” said virus expert and physician Dr Boghuma Kabisen Titanji, public health researcher Keletso Makofane and another public health that goes through Dr. Neurofourier on Twitter. written on the PLOS blog “Let’s talk about medicine and health” on Thursdays.

“It is unfortunate that this still needs to be said, highlighting how little we have learned from previous outbreaks.”

The World Health Organization has also Fridaystressing in a statement that anyone who interacts closely with an infectious person may be at risk of catching monkeypox.

“This includes health workers, household members and sexual partners,” the WHO said. “Stigmatizing groups of people because of a disease is never acceptable. It can be a barrier to ending an outbreak as it can prevent people from seeking care and lead to undetected spread.”

Everyone is vulnerable to monkeypox, as most of us have not had a smallpox vaccine.

Monkeypox Virus Present In Human Vesicular Fluid.

Monkeypox virus.

BSIP/UIG Via Getty Images

McCollum, with the CDC, says cases of monkeypox have increased in recent years in Africa, and there are several reasons why this could be happening.

“Nigeria went 39 years without any cases,” she said. “And then all of a sudden they didn’t just have a few cases, they had a lot – and they keep going.”

One of the main reasons could be due to the unprecedented success of the smallpox vaccine. Because smallpox was eradicated from Earth in 1980, most people alive today have not been vaccinated against the disease. (McCollum, however, is vaccinated against smallpox because of her job, which sometimes includes handling infectious lab samples.)

Smallpox and monkeypox are closely related viruses, and vaccines that have been developed for smallpox can provide robust cross-protection against monkeypox. But experts believe that nowadays more than 70% of people worldwide are not immune to monkeypoxbecause they never needed the smallpox shot to begin with.

Ongoing genetic sequencing should shed more light on whether this is truly a more contagious form of monkeypox or not, and whether it is spreading in a new way.

With fewer than 150 suspected cases in total, McCollum and Whitworth are cautious about raising too much alarm among the general public.

“It’s likely that the number of cases will never be this high,” Whitworth said. “It’s not like it’s the next pandemic – we don’t think so.”

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