Monkeypox is spread during sex – and that’s a relief

Monkeypox is spread during sex - and that's a relief
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We are beginning to understand how monkey pox spreads in this latest outbreak of the deadly disease.

Smallpox is spread by close physical contact. Especially during sex.

Believe it or not, it’s actually a relief. Because a possible alternative – airborne smallpox – is much, much more dangerous.

The World Health Organization recently confirmed the transmission methods behind the three-week outbreak in Europe, Australia and the United States. “Based on currently available information, cases have been primarily but not exclusively identified among men who have sex with men seeking care at primary care and sexual health clinics,” the WHO said. said last week.

This does not mean monkey pox— a pathogen endemic to rodent and monkey populations in West and Central Africa and which causes flu-like symptoms and rash in humans (and can be fatal in up to 10% of cases , depending on the specific strain) — is a sexually transmitted disease.

In fact, the experts are clear that it is not. Instead, it is an opportunistic disease that prefers to pass from an infected person to an uninfected person via tiny cuts in the skin or the mucous membranes of the nose, mouth and anus. “Any close contact will allow spread,” Blossom Damania, a virologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, told The Daily Beast.

It is therefore not surprising that men who have sex with other men are an important factor in the spread of smallpox. David Heymann, who previously headed the WHO emergency department, told the Associated Press that men attending raves in Spain and Belgium – and getting frisky with each other – are “amplifying” the epidemic.

“What happened was he got into a population that amplifies transmission because of the behavior,” Heymann told The Daily Beast.

Mateo Prochazka, an infectious disease epidemiologist at the UK Health and Safety Agency, said he was concerned the findings could be misinterpreted in a way that could be used to attack the gay community, which he is member.

“It doesn’t mean that gay or bisexual men are doing anything wrong per se, or that the virus has changed or is sexually transmitted, it just means that this behavior facilitates transmission in these networks,” he said. he added. says PinkNews. “We wanted to make sure people understood that the transmission is not exclusive to gay and bisexual men, it just happened to have entered this network.”

At the start of the epidemic, it was feared that this strain of smallpox could be spread the same way as COVID – in the air when we breathe, cough, talk, laugh.

So the sexual aspect of viral transmission is actually cause for relief among epidemiologists as the number of confirmed cases – around 100 in a dozen countries outside Africa as of Monday – slowly climbs. (No deaths were reported.)

“We still don’t fully understand the extent of the outbreaks or the modes of transmission,” Lawrence Gostin, a global health expert at Georgetown University, told The Daily Beast last week.

COVID of course likes to travel in the very fine “aerosol” mist that everyone exhales every few seconds. These aerosols can travel through rooms and remain in the air for minutes at a time. This is part of what makes COVID so contagious.

Experts suspect monkeypox tends to favor larger droplets that don’t travel as far or linger as long. “Monkey pox is not airborne, but is transmitted by droplets after prolonged contact,” the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control, the European version of the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told Reuters. Daily Beast in a statement. In other words, it seemed unlikely that smallpox would spread like COVID and potentially trigger its own pandemic.

But viruses are unpredictable. The idea that smallpox could have mutated to ride on aerosols kept many epidemiologists awake at night earlier this month, even though it is a DNA virus so it cannot mutate as easily as an RNA virus like COVID. The world barely manages to manage a single pandemic. The last thing we need is a second global disease on top of the first.

We can relax… a little. Since smallpox is mainly spread through very close contact – kisses, caresses, sex – it is quite simple not to pass it on. “This disease can be contained by behavioral change,” Heymann said.

It starts with education. Know what smallpox looks like (hard, circular blisters) and don’t touch anyone who shows signs of infection. But no need for paranoia. You probably won’t catch smallpox just by sharing air with an infected person.

And even if you do catch it, you have options for prompt treatment. Monkeypox is related to smallpox and the same vaccines work against both. The CDC alone stores more than 100 million doses of smallpox vaccines.

Not only can the latest and greatest smallpox vaccine, Jynneos, prevent infection, but it works as therapy after infection, Heymann pointed out. “It changes the virus.” The catch is that you have to take a dose a few days after getting sick.

Between contact tracing, vaccines and therapies, we have the tools to contain monkeypox and prevent most possible deaths from the virus. And now that we’re focusing on the main routes of transmission, we can begin to rule out the likelihood of a smallpox pandemic. “I expect it to be contained in high-income countries,” Gostin said.

To have a good chance of spreading smallpox, you need to get close to someone else. It does not lend itself to uncontrollable spread.

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