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Fact Check-Monkeypox can be spread by anyone in close contact and is not a “gay disease” - contrary to posts online

Monkeypox is not a sexually transmitted infection (STI) or “gay disease” that is only spread between men who engage in sexual relations with other men, contrary to social media posts online.

These claims, which experts have called both false and harmful, have spread across platforms (here, here, here, here and here).

Monkeypox is a usually mild viral infection that is endemic in parts of west and central Africa.

Nearly 20 countries where monkeypox is not endemic have reported outbreaks of the disease, with more than 100 confirmed or suspected infections mostly in Europe (here).

Many, but not all, of those diagnosed in the current outbreak have been men who have sex with men (MSM), according to a World Health Organization (WHO) briefing dated May 21, 2022 (here).

This has produced a slew of false claims about the virus – such as it being an STI that is spread exclusively among gay men (here and here).

Reuters spoke to experts that expressed concern about both the inaccuracy and harmful nature of these claims.

“To label it as a gay disease is both untrue and unfair”, Dr Andrew Lee, professor of public health at the University of Sheffield, told Reuters.

A person’s sexuality and sexual orientation is not the route of transmission, Lee said in an email. “Anyone can get it if they have had direct contact with an infected person”.

Dr Boghuma K. Titanji, Infectious Disease doctor and scientist at Emory University in Atlanta, agreed with this assertion.

Monkeypox is a virus that is transmitted through droplets, contaminated objects and close contact with an infected person (here).

“Viruses do not care about your sexual orientation or the type of sex you have”, Titanji said via email to Reuters. “They care about a host that is susceptible to infection and the optimal conditions for transmission.”

The virus is typically spread through close physical contact, but this can be both sexual and non-sexual (here).

Since the current outbreak, the WHO has said that monkeypox is not considered a sexually transmitted infection (here).

While it can be transmitted through close contact during sex, it can also be spread by touching material used by an infected person, their coughs and sneezes, or other skin to skin contact (here).

Lee maintains that although many of the virus cases have been detected in one community, it could have easily affected another network, such as a school, sports club, or extended family.

This is because infections spread through social networks, and an infected person is more likely to spread the virus to people they are in close contact with than those who they are not.

The United Nations AIDS agency (UNAIDS) has expressed concern that some public reporting and commentary on monkeypox reinforces homophobic and racist stereotypes.

“Experience shows that stigmatizing rhetoric can quickly disable evidence-based response by stoking cycles of fear, driving people away from health services, impeding efforts to identify cases, and encouraging ineffective, punitive measures”, Matthew Kavanagh, UNAIDS Deputy Executive Director said in a statement released online (here).

“We appreciate the LGBTI community for having led the way on raising awareness – and we reiterate that this disease can affect anyone.”

Reuters has debunked false claims that the international outbreak of monkeypox is AIDS caused by the COVID-19 vaccine – or “vaccine-acquired immunodeficiency syndrome” (VAIDS) (here).

VERDICT

False. Monkeypox is not a sexually transmitted infection, nor is it only spread between men who have sex with men. The virus can spread between sexual and non-sexual close contacts and its transmission is not limited to those of a certain sexual orientation.

This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our fact-checking work here .

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