Written by Elizabeth, RSEI Educator | Published August 8th, 2022
What is Monkeypox?
Monkeypox, also known as MPV, MPX, or MPVX, is a virus. It is related to other pox viruses, like smallpox and molluscum contagiosum. In fact, the smallpox vaccine has been shown to provide some protection against monkeypox. However, because the US stopped providing routine smallpox vaccination in the early 1970s because the virus was eradicated, many people never received that vaccine.
How does it spread?
MPX is spread in a few ways –
- Direct contact with rashes, sores, or scabs caused by MPX
- Close physical contact with a person who has MPX
- Contact with objects including surfaces and fabrics that a person with MPX has touched
- Contact with mucus or saliva from prolonged face-to-face contact, often through things like kissing
What are common symptoms?
MPX usually starts off with a fever, headache, muscle aches, exhaustion, and enlarged lymph nodes which is followed by a rash, but it is worth noting that some people don’t have a fever or any other symptoms before a rash develops, especially with the current outbreak. The rash may look like pimples or blisters, or even like other infections including herpes, shingles, or molluscum. Monkeypox is generally a self-limited disease, which means it resolves on its own without medical intervention. It usually lasts 2-4 weeks.
Why are there higher rates among men who have sex with men?
There are many theories about why the current outbreak is affecting men who have sex with men more than the general population. Some theories link behaviors like having multiple sexual partners to an increased risk. Other theories suggest that men who have sex with men may visit health care providers more often for routine testing, which could lead to disparities in diagnosis rates, meaning the virus may not actually be affecting men who have sex with men more than others.
Do I need to worry about MPX?
Current recommendations from the World Health Organization encourage men who have sex with men to take precautions, like reducing their number of sexual partners and sharing contact information with any partners so they can follow up if needed. Unfortunately, such recommendations may give folks the false impression that only gay or bisexual men are at risk when in reality we know the virus spreads through any close contact and even through fabrics or objects that a person who has MPX has handled.
If everyone is at risk, then how did the theory about men who have sex with men being at the highest risk originate? Experts suggest that the current outbreak can be traced back to three large gatherings in Europe, at least one of which was a rave. According to these experts, most people who acquired MPX at the rave were gay and bisexual men. So that may explain the disproportionate impact on the LGBTQ+ community that we saw at the beginning. What it doesn’t explain is why experts are sticking with that messaging. People who attended the rave went home and resumed their normal lives. Logically, this means they have been exposing people – in their homes, at work, at the grocery store, when taking public transit, etc.
While the United States officially declared MPX to be a public health emergency on Thursday, August 4th, their primary focus remains on providing vaccines and education to men who have sex with men. When we perpetuate the falsehood that an illness affects only one community, whether it’s gay men and AIDS or Asian people and COVID, we are stigmatizing this illness and, ultimately, allowing it to run its course through our communities, instead of limiting its spread. As sexual health educators and youth-serving adults, we have an opportunity to encourage the young people we serve to use safer community care practices to prevent all sorts of illnesses. This includes things like staying home when they aren’t well, communicating with people they have come into contact with, practicing good hygiene habits, etc. The best way to limit the spread of MPX is to ensure the public is educated about the risk so that everyone can take basic precautions. You can read more about these precautions at the CDC website here.