Debunking monkeypox misinformation: What it is, what it’s not

Why a local health leader worries stigma may come with this outbreak

ROANOKE, Va. – As of Tuesday afternoon, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported 1,972 cases of monkeypox across 44 states.

Major cities have been hit the hardest and Virginia has reported 44 cases so far.

“Overwhelmingly, the cases are from direct physical contact and it’s almost exclusively being seen in the community of men who have sex with men,” stated Dr. Cynthia Morrow, Director of the Roanoke City & Alleghany Health Districts.

That doesn’t mean the virus is sexually transmitted, but officials said it shows that prolonged skin-to-skin contact is one of the major ways monkeypox is now spreading.

As of now, even though the CDC said risk is low, health experts said there are things you can do to protect yourself.

WHAT IS MONKEYPOX?

The rare disease is caused by infection with the monkeypox virus. It is part of the same family of viruses as smallpox.

Symptoms are similar to smallpox symptoms but milder; and monkeypox is rarely fatal, according to the CDC.

Dr. Charles Schleupner is a professor of medicine at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine. He said you may first “develop a rash” or you can “develop flu-like symptoms.”

Symptoms of monkeypox can include:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Muscle aches and backache
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Chills
  • Exhaustion
  • A rash that can look like pimples or blisters that appear on the face, inside the mouth, and on other parts of the body, like the hands, feet, chest, genitals, or anus.

Monkeypox typically lasts 2-4 weeks.

“This is not a sexually transmitted disease, but a disease transmitted during close personal contact and much of it during sex,” explained Dr. Schleupner.

HOW IT SPREADS

Monkeypox spreads in different ways. The virus can spread from person to person through:

  • Direct contact with the infectious rash, scabs, or body fluids
  • Respiratory secretions during prolonged, face-to-face contact, or during intimate physical contact, such as kissing, cuddling, or sex
  • Touching items (such as clothing or linens) that previously touched the infectious rash or body fluids
  • Pregnant people can spread the virus to their fetus through the placenta

“While it’s not a classic STI, it does appear to be almost exclusively involved with sexual practices,” said Dr. Morrow.

There is also a concern about the possibility of people getting monkeypox from infected animals, either by being scratched or bitten.

PREVENTION & TREATMENT

Right now, men who have sexual encounters with other men account for most cases.

“It’s really important not to generalize, but to use our demographic information to inform us,” stated Dr. Morrow.

Educational resources are available for the MSM (men who have sex with men) population and others at the Drop-in Center in Roanoke.

“Stigma comes with everything,” said Program Coordinator Todd Rothrick. “We’ve seen stigma with COVID and with HIV, of course. With this being something that is primarily affecting the MSM population, of course, there is going to be a stigma.”

The following steps can prevent getting monkeypox:

  • Avoid close, skin-to-skin contact with people who have a rash that looks like monkeypox. Do not touch the rash or scabs of a person who has monkeypox. Do not kiss, hug, or have intercourse with someone who has monkeypox. Do not share eating utensils or cups with a person who has monkeypox.
  • Do not handle or touch the bedding, towels, or clothing of a person with monkeypox.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • In Central and West Africa, avoid contact with animals that can spread monkeypox, usually rodents and primates. Also, avoid sick or dead animals, as well as bedding or other materials they have touched.

If you are sick with monkeypox:

  • Isolate at home
  • If you have an active rash or other symptoms, stay in a separate room or area away from people or pets you live with, when possible.

Dr. Morrow said vaccines are in the Roanoke area but are being saved for post-exposure.

“[Let’s] not get carried away thinking this is going to be like COVID in the sense that it will affect hundreds of thousands of people, I don’t see that evolution,” said Dr. Schleupner.

You can click here for more information on monkeypox.


About the Author:

McKinley Strother joined the WSLS 10 News team in June 2020. He anchors 10 News at 6 and 11 on Saturdays and Sundays and you'll also catch him reporting during the week.