Enough With the Monkeypox Misinformation
It’s not an STI. It’s not a gay disease. Treating it like one kills.
Disclaimer: I am not an infectious disease expert. I just know firsthand that bigotry and misinformation have killed and will continue to do so unless they are ameliorated.
As if COVID-19 wasn’t bad enough, we have another health crisis on our hands. Monkeypox sounds like a disease from a cartoon, but it’s as real as its cousin smallpox. Prior to 2022, this disease was mostly confined to Western and Central African countries. The first human case was recorded in 1970. Today’s outbreaks disproportionately affect men who have sex with men (MSM) for various reasons, but it is possible that non-MSM have cases that are going untested due to current focus on MSM.
Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Georgia) has questioned on Twitter how monkeypox made its way into a daycare if it is supposedly an STI. When a child of this age contracts an STI, it is a red flag for sexual assault. By framing monkeypox as an STI, it implies that a gay or bisexual man has sexually assaulted the children in question. This spells trouble for male/male couples who have children, especially if those children contract monkeypox.
Greene has also said that monkeypox is spread through “gay sex orgies”. Because monkeypox disproportionately impacts MSM at the moment, some people may think monkeypox is a “gay disease”. Monkeypox is likely to be subject to the same stigma as HIV unless misinformation is quashed early and frequently. Granted, there are people who will still believe that monkeypox is a gay disease despite growing evidence to the contrary, but education efforts are still crucial in stopping the spread of monkeypox misinformation.
Monkeypox is not an STI. It spreads through contact with the rashes of infected people and/or animals, prolonged contact with respiratory secretions, and making contact with contaminated items. The typical daycare setting involves long days of children sharing items and being in close physical proximity to each other. This makes daycares, schools, and other childcare-related spaces nearly ideal for the spread of monkeypox.
To be clear, Marjorie Taylor Greene is not the sole disseminator of monkeypox misinformation. An article in The Telegraph misleadingly frames monkeypox as a “new STI in men”. This article was written in July when the classification of monkeypox as an STI was more widely debated. However, as new information continues to come about monkeypox, many health organizations have made it clear that monkeypox is not an STI.
As we have seen during the rise and fall of the HIV epidemic, framing any infectious disease as a “gay disease” kills. Diseases that disproportionately affect MSM and other queer populations are not automatically STIs. Treating them as such will lead to violence and discrimination against those in the population and those affected by the disease. Not only that, but researchers may overlook spread in other high-risk groups as well as in the general population.