Editorials, Opinion

Important things to know about monkeypox

With almost 17,000 confirmed cases of monkeypox, including four in West Virginia (at the time of this writing), and Morgantown’s Pride events kicking off this weekend, it’s time to address the latest viral sensation and the perceptions around it.

According to Johns Hopkins, monkeypox is an orthopox DNA virus related to smallpox, though milder. Contrary to the name, rodents are the primary carriers of this particular disease, not monkeys. Although monkeypox is largely unfamiliar to the Western world, it has regularly spread among the general population in several African countries since the 1970s.

Monkeypox can start like the flu — fever, headaches, muscle aches and fatigue — then erupt into blisters that in turn become lesions about one to four days after the fever starts. Unlike chickenpox, which also causes an extremely uncomfortable rash, monkeypox also includes swelling of the lymph nodes. If you’d like more information, please refer to Erin Cleavenger’s story in today’s paper.

The current global spread has been seen primarily in men who have sex with other men and/or people who have multiple partners in a short time. Unfortunately, that has created a lot of stigma around the disease — think the early days HIV and AIDS. Since we’re gearing up to celebrate Pride, it’s important for us to address some misconceptions now.

Unfortunately, some people — politicians in particular — have already tried to frame the monkeypox outbreak as a kind of “gay-only” disease or worse. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, Q-Ga., tweeted “If monkeypox is a sexually transmitted disease, why are kids getting it?” (which was then retweeted almost 10,000 times and racked up over 37,000 likes). Her dog whistle was meant to invoke the latest far-right push to brand LGBTQ+ individuals and their allies as pedophiles, but the answer to her question is, of course, that monkeypox is not a sexually transmitted disease and anyone has the potential to contract it.

While monkeypox primarily spreads through direct physical contact — which is basically a given during intercourse — particularly with lesions, it can also spread through prolonged exposure to respiratory droplets (sitting close and breathing each other’s air) and contact with contaminated surfaces.

As Dr. Catherine Smallwood, senior emergency officer at the World Health Organization, said, the current outbreak among gay and bisexual men “might be the canary in the mine that’s alerting to us a new disease threat that could spread to other groups.”

The most unfortunate part of the current monkeypox outbreak is that, despite the disease being a known element for nearly 50 years, very little is actually known about its specifics. We suspect this lack of knowledge is related to the fact that, until this year, monkeypox has only been a problem for African nations — and now “only” for gay men. But if COVID taught us anything, it’s that diseases have no respect for borders, genders, ages, occupations, etc., so we should all be careful.