- Misinformation regarding monkeypox, according to experts, may prevent individuals from defending themselves.
- Monkeypox can affect anyone, regardless of age, gender, or sexual orientation. It is not limited to males who have intercourse with other men.
- Despite the fact that monkeypox is not a novel virus, the situation is changing. Experts believe there are still methods to keep safe and informed.
Health misinformation has become so widespread and dangerous that the United States Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek H. Murthy, issued an advisory on it in 2021.
“Health misinformation poses a significant risk to public health.” “It has the potential to generate misunderstanding, spread mistrust, impair people’s health, and undermine public health efforts,” Murthy warned in the statement.
The United States is now dealing with a new emergency: monkeypox. Experts are concerned because misinformation about the virus is spreading swiftly, including how it spreads and who can contract it.
“It is critical to get solid, high-quality information out to people during any epidemic of a new or unfamiliar disease,” says Dr. Linda Yancey, an infectious disease specialist at Memorial Hermann Health System in Houston. “As we saw with COVID, the rumor mill will go into overdrive, and…people will not always have the information they need to protect themselves and stay alive.”
Myth: Monkeypox is a newly discovered illness.
You may have first heard about monkeypox in May, when the United Kingdom reported a case in a citizen who had recently returned from Lagos, Nigeria. Later that month, the United States reported its first case, involving a Massachusetts man who had recently returned from a trip to Canada.
But, in reality, we’ve known about monkeypox for almost six decades. “Scientists originally discovered the virus in 1958, when two outbreaks of a pox-like disease occurred in colonies of laboratory monkeys,” explains Dr. Bayo Curry-Winchell, Carbon Health’s regional clinical director.
According to Dr. Mark Fischer, regional medical director at International SOS, it was first observed in humans in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1970. However, according to Curry-Winchell, most instances of monkeypox had been limited to select African countries where the virus is endemic until this year. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) Trusted Source, monkeypox is endemic in:
- the Central African Republic
- the Democratic Republic of the Congo
- Gabon, Ghana (has only been identified in animals)
- Ivory Coast
- the Republic of the Congo
- Sierra Leone
- South Sudan.
“These are two entirely separate infections,” he claims.
Balboni emphasizes that the COVID-19 vaccinations, as well as those already used to defend against monkeypox, are both safe and efficacious. There are now four COVID-19 vaccinations available, and the CDC cautions that none of them contain live viruses.
Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, the two most extensively used, employ messenger RNA technology (mRNA).
“[These vaccines] teach our cells how to produce a harmless protein that is specific to the virus,” Curry-Winchell explains. “Once our cells have replicated the virus, they destroy the vaccine’s genetic material and can attack COVID-19.” There is no link between this virus and the monkeypox virus.”
Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen vaccine is a viral vector vaccine, which means it builds immunity by using a modified version of another virus. The Novavax vaccine is a protein subunit vaccine that induces an immune response by using a specific component of a germ. Neither of these vaccines has anything to do with the spread of monkeypox or its prevention.
Myth: Monkeypox can be contracted through a swimming pool.
Fischer warns that scientists are still looking into monkeypox. However, he claims that for the time being, it does not appear to be waterborne and is instead distributed mostly by skin-to-skin contact.
It can also spread when people contact unwashed linens and clothing that has previously been used by a monkeypox patient. With this in mind, Fischer recommends swimmers take measures at the pool. “It’s critical to be mindful of what you touch while poolside, as towels and clothing are more likely to transfer the infection,” Fischer adds.
Though it doesn’t appear that you can catch monkeypox from the pool, Curry-Winchell says you can get it from someone else in the water if you have skin-to-skin or face-to-face contact. “Be cautious of huge gatherings like pool parties,” Curry-Winchell advises.
Myth: Being in a crowd can cause monkeypox.
Capacity restrictions were a crucial mitigation approach throughout the COVID-19 pandemic because the virus is airborne and spreads when people inhale virus-containing droplets and particles. Officials warned the public that the fewer people who shared the same air, the less likely the virus would spread.
Though monkeypox can spread through respiratory secretions, the CDC stated in a media caution that these droplets fall out of the air faster. As a result, Curry-Winchell believes that being in a crowd is unlikely to result in monkeypox. However, it is not impossible.
“There is a slight risk,” she admits. “Monkeypox is transmitted by continuous, close contact with an infected individual, thus to get the disease, you would need to have skin-to-skin contact with an open sore, such as while embracing or handling things and fabrics used by someone with monkeypox.”
Kissing and sharing utensils and cups with someone who has monkeypox, such as at a huge wedding, can also spread the virus. In other words, enormous crowds aren’t the most dangerous thing; it’s the skin-to-skin contact people have while in them that is.
Monkeypox is not a sexually transmitted infection. Though monkeypox can be transmitted through intercourse, Balboni claims that it is not the only method to become infected.
“Skin-to-skin contact that is neither sexual nor intimate can spread monkeypox,” explains Balboni. “The most prevalent way for STIs to spread is through sexual contact.” “Monkeypox is not simply spread through sex.”
Myth: Only gay and bisexual males are susceptible to monkeypox.
This is the one fallacy that Balboni would debunk if he could. “Right now, the most essential thing anyone can know about monkeypox is that it can afflict anyone, regardless of sexual orientation or partners,” he says. “Everyone should be aware of the risks and educate themselves on how to guard against the virus.”
Yancey compares this misconception to those that prevailed during the HIV epidemic, which demonized the LGBT community. Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Joe Biden’s main medical advisor, recently echoed similar worries on NPR’s All Things Considered, saying that the “government must fight homophobic stigmas around monkeypox.” “The virus makes no distinction,” Curry-Winchell agrees.
Myth: Anyone may obtain a monkeypox vaccine.
There are two vaccinations available to protect against monkeypox, but none is monkeypox-specific. Although ACAM2000 and JYNNEOS were designed for smallpox, the CDC reports that they are at least 85 percent effective against monkeypox. Even though there are two available, not everyone will be able to obtain one.
“The vaccination is in short supply and is controlled by the federal government in the United States,” Fischer explains. “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises immunization for anyone who has been exposed or is at risk.”
According to the CDC, the following people are eligible for a monkeypox vaccination:
- individuals who have been exposed to the virus during the last 4 to 14 days
- persons who operate in specific industries or locations, such as healthcare practitioners and laboratory workers who test for orthopoxviruses such as monkeypox
Myth: The vaccine for monkeypox is commonly available.
According to experts, the monkeypox vaccination is presently unavailable due to a lack of availability. Fischer points out that the US Department of Health and Human Services has announced plans to allocate an extra 786,000 doses of the JYNNEOS vaccine – an improvement, but not sufficient.
He estimates that the United States will require almost three times that amount to prevent the 1.6 to 1.7 million Americans considered at high risk of catching monkeypox.
Myth: Monkeypox vaccine is brand new.
Fischer claims that neither vaccine for monkeypox is novel and that both are effective. The JYNNEOS vaccination is the older and more widely utilized of the two. It was approved by the FDA in 2019 for those aged 18 and up who are believed to be at high risk of contracting smallpox or monkeypox.
ACAM2000 was licensed in 2007 and took the place of Dryvax in smallpox immunizations in 2008.
Myth: Monkeypox was developed in a laboratory.
According to Balboni, this statement is likewise untrue. “In the late 1950s, a colony of monkeys was being observed for research,” he explains. “There have been rare outbreaks of the virus internationally during the last few decades, with outbreaks primarily occurring in tropical rainforest areas of central and west Africa.”
Despite the fact that scientists first detected the virus in monkeys, Fischer believes it may not have originated in the species. “It is unknown whether monkeys transferred the virus to humans because it can be carried by various animals,” Fischer explains. However, it was not made in a laboratory.
Myth: Monkeypox will wreak devastation in the same way that COVID-19 did.
COVID-19 impacted life as we know it, from company closures to Zoom getaways and drive-by birthday parties. Will monkeypox follow suit? Though the situation is changing, experts are optimistic that this public health emergency will not necessitate the same level of safeguards.
“Based on our observations thus far, the intimate physical contact required for monkeypox transmission makes it exceedingly unlikely that in-person meetings and events will be impacted in the same way as COVID-19,” Balboni says. Fischer understands people’s worries — we’ve been through a lot in the last 2.5 years — but he shares Balboni’s optimism.
“While the impact of COVID-19 frequently prompts people to dread the worst, we now have a strong understanding of monkeypox, as well as a vaccine that is already developed and being distributed,” Fischer adds. “However, as cases multiply, it is feasible that the virus will evolve.” As research continues, there is hope for a greater understanding of how to regulate this virus, slow its transmission, and eventually eradicate it.”
Where can I get reliable information about monkeypox?
With all of the disinformation out there, Yancey believes that receiving reliable updates is critical. She suggests the following three websites for evidence-based information:
- America’s Infectious Disease Society
- Virology This Week