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HEALTH NEWS

11 Monkeypox Myths, Debunked by Health Experts

Written by Beth Ann Mayer on August 10, 2022 — Fact checked by Dana K. Cassell

False claims and misinformation about monkeypox are continuing to spread at concerning rates. Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

Experts are concerned that misinformation about monkeypox can prevent people from protecting themselves.

Monkeypox can affect people of any age, gender, or sexual orientation. It is not just affecting men who have sex with other men.

Though monkeypox is not a new virus, the situation is evolving. Still, experts say there are ways to stay safe and informed.

Health misinformation has become so rampant and harmful that U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek H. Murthy issued an advisory about it in 2021.

“Health misinformation is a serious threat to public health. It can cause confusion, sow mistrust, harm people’s health, and undermine public health efforts,” Murthy said in the advisory.

Now, the U.S. is dealing with a new emergency: Monkeypox.

Experts say misinformation about it is circulating quickly, including how it spreads and who can get the virus, and they’re concerned.

“In any outbreak of a new or unfamiliar disease, it is important to get good, high quality information out to people,” says Dr. Linda Yancey, an infectious disease specialist at Memorial Hermann Health System in Houston. “As we saw in COVID, the rumor mill will kick into high gear, and…people won’t always have the information they need to protect themselves and keep safe.”

To help provide accurate information about monkeypox, Healthline spoke with medical experts to debunk 11 troubling myths currently circulating about the virus.

Myth: Monkeypox is a new disease

You may have heard about monkeypox for the first time in May when Britain reported a case in a resident who had recently returned from Lagos, NigeriaTrusted Source. The U.S. reported its first case later that month in a Massachusetts man who had recently traveled to Canada.

But the truth is, we’ve known about monkeypox for more than six decades.

“Scientists first learned about the virus in 1958 when two outbreaks of a pox-like disease occurred in colonies of research monkeys,” explains Dr. Bayo Curry-Winchell, the regional clinical director at Carbon Health.

Dr. Mark Fischer, the regional medical director at International SOS, adds that it was first seen in humans in 1970 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

But Curry-Winchell says that, until this year, most cases of monkeypox have been limited to several African countries, where the virus is endemic. The World Health Organization (WHO)Trusted Source says monkeypox is endemic in:

Benin

Cameroon

the Central African Republic

the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Gabon, Ghana (has only been identified in animals)

Ivory Coast

Liberia

Nigeria

the Republic of the Congo

Sierra Leone

South Sudan.

Myth: You can get monkeypox from the COVID-19 vaccine

Dr. Armand Balboni, an infectious disease expert, says it’s not possible to get COVID-19 or any virus from the COVID-19 vaccine. In fact, monkeypox and COVID-19 are unrelated.

“These are two completely different viruses,” he says.

Balboni stresses that the COVID-19 vaccines and those currently being used to protect against monkeypox are safe and effective.

There are currently four vaccines for COVID-19, and the CDC notesTrusted Source that none contain live viruses.

The two most widely distributed, Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, use messenger RNA technology (mRNA).

“[These vaccines] give our cells instructions on how to make a harmless protein that is unique to the virus,” Curry-Winchell explains. “Once our cells have made copies of the virus, they destroy the genetic material from the vaccine and can combat COVID-19. There is no relation to the monkeypox virus.”

Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen vaccine is a viral vector vaccine, which means it uses a modified version of another virus to build protection. The Novavax vaccine is a protein subunit vaccine that uses a certain part of a germ to create an immune response. Neither of these vaccines has anything to do with the spread of or protection against monkeypox, either.

Myth: You can get monkeypox from a swimming pool 

Fischer cautions that scientists are still researching monkeypox. But right now, he says it does not appear to be waterborne but rather spread primarily through skin-to-skin contact.

It can also spread when people touch unwashed linens and clothing previously used by an individual with monkeypox. With that in mind, Fischer advises people to take precautions at the swimming pool.

“It is important to be aware of what you touch while poolside, as towels and clothing are at a higher risk of spreading the virus,” Fischer says.

Though it doesn’t appear you can get monkeypox from the pool itself, Curry-Winchell says it’s possible to get monkeypox from someone in the water if you have skin-to-skin or face-to-face contact.

“Be mindful of large gatherings such as pool parties,” Curry-Winchell says.

Myth: You can get monkeypox from being in a crowd

Capacity limits were a major mitigation strategy throughout the COVID-19 pandemic because that virus is airborneTrusted Source and spreads when someone inhales droplets and particles containing the virus. Officials advised the public that the fewer people there were sharing the same air, the less chance there would be for spread.

Though monkeypox can spread through respiratory secretions, the CDC notedTrusted Source in a media advisory that these droplets drop out of the air more quickly. Therefore, Curry-Winchell says it’s unlikely to get monkeypox from being in a crowd. But it’s not impossible.

“There is a small risk,” she says. “Monkeypox is transmitted through prolonged, close contact with an infected individual, so you would need to have skin-to-skin contact with an open sore, such as while hugging or touching objects and fabrics that have been used by someone with monkeypox to contract the disease.”

Kissing and sharing utensils and cups, such as during a large wedding, with a person who has monkeypox can also spread the virus. In other words, large crowds themselves aren’t the biggest issue, but rather it’s the skin-to-skin contact people have while in them that is the danger.

Myth: Monkeypox is a sexually transmitted infection

Though monkeypox can be spread through sex, Balboni says it isn’t the only way someone can be infected.

“Monkeypox can be spread from skin-to-skin contact that isn’t sexual or intimate,” Balboni says. “STIs are most commonly spread by sexual contact. Sex alone is not the only way monkeypox is spread.”

Myth: Only gay and bisexual men can get monkeypox

If Balboni could debunk one myth, it would be this one.

“The most important thing anyone can know about monkeypox right now is that it can affect anyone, regardless of your sexual orientation or partners,” he says. “Everyone should be aware of the risks and educate themselves on how they can protect themselves against the virus.”

Yancey says this myth reminds her of the ones that existed during the HIV crisis, which stigmatized the gay community. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the chief medical advisor to Pres. Joe Biden, recently expressed similar concerns on the NPR podcast, All Things Considered, saying that the “government must fight homophobic stigmas surrounding monkeypox.”

“The virus does not discriminate,” Curry-Winchell concurs.

Myth: Anyone can easily get a monkeypox vaccine

Two vaccines are available to protect against monkeypox, though neither are monkeypox-specific. ACAM2000 and JYNNEOS were developed for smallpox, but the CDC saysTrusted Source they are at least 85 percent effective against monkeypox. Though there are two available, not everyone can get one.

“The vaccine is in limited supply and controlled by the federal government in the U.S.,” Fischer says. “The CDC recommends vaccination for people who have been exposed or are at risk.

According to the CDC, people eligible to receive a vaccination to protect against monkeypox include:

individuals exposed to the virus in the last 4 to 14 days.

individuals who are working in certain fields or environments, such as healthcare providers and laboratory employees who test to diagnose orthopoxviruses like monkeypox.

Myth: The monkeypox vaccine is widely available

Experts say the monkeypox vaccine is not currently widely available because of the short supply.

Fischer notes the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced plans to allocate an additional 786,000 doses of the JYNNEOS vaccine — an improvement, but not enough.

He says the U.S. will need about three times that amount to protect the 1.6 to 1.7 million Americans considered at high risk for contracting monkeypox.

Myth: The monkeypox vaccine is new

Fischer says neither vaccine being used for monkeypox is new, and both are effective.

The JYNNEOS vaccine is the more commonly used and the newer of the two. The FDA approved it in 2019Trusted Source for people ages 18 and older considered at high risk for smallpox or monkeypox.

ACAM2000 was approved in 2007Trusted Source and replaced Dryvax for smallpox vaccinations in 2008.

Myth: Monkeypox was created in a lab

This statement is also false, Balboni says.

“Monkeypox originated from a colony of monkeys being studied for research in the late 1950s,” he says. “Over the past few decades, there have been sporadic outbreaks of the virus globally, and outbreaks have largely occurred in tropical rainforest areas of central and west Africa.”

Though scientists first discovered the virus in monkeys, Fischer notes the virus may not have originated in the species.

“It remains unknown whether monkeys transmitted the virus to humans as several species can carry it,” Fischer says.

But it wasn’t created in a lab.

Myth: Monkeypox will cause havoc similar to COVID-19

From business closures to Zoom holidays and drive-by birthday parties, COVID-19 disrupted life as we know it. Will monkeypox do the same? Though the situation is evolving, experts are hopeful this public health emergency won’t require the same level of precautions.

“From what we have observed thus far, the close physical contact required for transmission of monkeypox makes it highly unlikely that in-person gatherings and events will be impacted the same way as with COVID-19,” Balboni says.

Fischer empathizes with people’s concerns — we’ve been through a lot in the last 2.5 years — but he shares Balboni’s hope.

“While the impact of COVID-19 often causes individuals to fear the worst, we currently have a strong understanding of monkeypox along with a vaccine already developed and being distributed,” Fischer says. “That being said, it is possible for the virus to evolve as cases continue to spread. As research continues to be conducted, there’s hope to have more insight on how to get this virus under control to slow the spread and ultimately eradicate it.”

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