Fact check: Monkeypox can spread to anyone through close contact

·4 min read

The claim: Monkeypox is a sexually transmitted disease among gay men

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported more than 13,000 cases of monkeypox in the U.S. Some social media users claim that the outbreak is only affecting gay men.

"Since Fake News won't say it, MONKEYPOX is a sexually transmitted disease among GAY MEN!" reads an Instagram post shared on July 30.

The post generated more than 1,600 likes in less than two weeks. Similar posts have amassed hundreds of interactions on Facebook.

But the claim is wrong on multiple fronts.

Infectious disease specialists told USA TODAY that anyone can be infected with monkeypox, and the disease is not limited to gay men. Monkeypox is not classified as a sexually transmitted infection either as it can spread various ways.

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USA TODAY reached out to the social media users who shared the claim for comment.

A woman administers the monkeypox vaccine at a walk-in clinic at the North Jersey Community Research Initiative in Newark, N.J., Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2022.
A woman administers the monkeypox vaccine at a walk-in clinic at the North Jersey Community Research Initiative in Newark, N.J., Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2022.

Monkeypox spreads to anyone through close contact

It is true that many reported infections of monkeypox have stemmed from men having sex with men. Rosamund Lewis, the World Health Organization's monkeypox expert, said "about 99% of cases are among men, and at least 95% of those patients are men who have sex with men," according to CNBC.

Regardless, anyone can get monkeypox no matter their age, gender, sex assigned at birth, sexual orientation or race, Dr. Matthew Hamill, an assistant professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University, told USA TODAY. While the outbreak at the moment has predominantly affected the LGBTQ community, that is bound to change, he said.

"We've learned many times over the decades that sexual networks are not fixed," Hamill said. "We've seen that numerous times...(for example) where in the early and mid 80s, (HIV) was seen as an infection that only affected gay men. We quickly learned that was of course not true. There are many other people who are affected."

Fact check: Altered image falsely attributes erroneous monkeypox claims to BBC, WHO and CDC

Also, monkeypox is not classified as a sexually transmitted infection, Hamill said. While the virus is transmissible through "oral, anal, and vaginal sex," as the CDC notes, it can spread other ways too.

"Monkeypox is a little more complicated, in some ways, because monkeypox has existed for decades in parts of western Central Africa and in that context, it's predominant mode of transmission is not through sexual contact," Hamill said. "It's through nonsexual household contact."

The virus can spread through direct contact with an infected person through fluid from a skin lesion, Dr. Richard Martinello, an infectious disease specialist at Yale Medicine, told USA TODAY.  It can also spread by touching objects, fabrics and surfaces used by someone with the virus and "contact with respiratory secretions," according to the CDC.

A pregnant person can also spread the virus "to their fetus through the placenta," the CDC says on its website. 

There have been reports of monkeypox affecting children and pregnant women as well. Two children in the U.S. in close contact with infected family members have been diagnosed with the virus, USA TODAY reported on July 27. The first known U.S. case of monkeypox infection in a pregnant woman was reported in July, according to CBS News.

Our rating: False

Based on our research, we rate FALSE the claim that monkeypox is a sexually transmitted disease among gay men. Infectious disease specialists told USA TODAY that the monkeypox virus can spread to anyone and the disease is not limited to gay men. Monkeypox is not classified as a sexually transmitted infection as it can spread various ways such as exposure to respiratory secretions or skin contact.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: Monkeypox can spread to anyone through close contact