The first case of monkeypox was reported in the U.S. this year on May 18, and there have been hundreds of new cases reported across the globe.
Monkeypox is typically found in Africa, and rare cases in the U.S. and elsewhere are usually linked to travel to the continent. The disease originates in wild animals like rodents and primates that live in tropical rainforest climates like those of central and west Africa.
The World Health Organization’s (WHO) top monkeypox expert said she doesn’t expect the hundreds of worldwide cases reported to date to turn into another pandemic, but acknowledged there are still many unknowns about the disease, including how exactly it’s spreading.
Some of the recorded cases are are in men who have sex with men, experts with the WHO say, and they are warning people to be careful.
Some social media users have referred to the virus as a “gay disease.” “Monkeypox and the gay community” was a trending breakout search across Google.
Several VERIFY viewers have also reached out to ask about monkeypox and its connection to LGBTQ people.
Is monkeypox a "gay disease" exclusive to LGBTQ people?
- Ilhem Messaoudi, Ph.D., professor and chair of the department of Microbiology, Immunology and Molecular Genetics at the University of Kentucky
- World Health Organization
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- UNAIDS, a joint United Nations program on HIV/AIDS
No, the virus is not exclusive to LGBTQ people. Anyone can get it from close physical contact with an infected person.
WHAT WE FOUND
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says monkeypox is transmitted when a person comes into close contact with the virus from an animal, human, or materials that are contaminated with the virus.
The virus enters the body through broken skin (even if not visible), the respiratory tract, or mucous membranes (eyes, nose, or mouth). Human-to-human transmission primarily occurs through close physical contact with bodily fluids, respiratory droplets, skin lesions or recently contaminated objects, the CDC and World Health Organization say.
Most patients who become infected with monkeypox experience fever, rash and swollen lymph nodes, according to the WHO. The rash tends to stay concentrated on the face and extremities but can spread across the body in more severe cases.
RELATED: 4 Fast Facts about monkeypox
Monkeypox is rare and anyone can be infected, Ilhem Messaoudi, Ph.D., told VERIFY. Messaoudi is a professor and chair of the department of Microbiology, Immunology and Molecular Genetics at the University of Kentucky.
“Monkeypox is a disease that doesn't know gender, race or sexual orientation,” Messaoud said. “This is an infectious disease, viruses and pathogens don't care about any of that.”
In a public session on May 31, WHO's Dr. Rosamund Lewis said it was critical to emphasize that the vast majority of cases being seen in dozens of countries globally are in gay, bisexual or men who have sex with men.
She warned that anyone is at potential risk for the disease, regardless of their sexual orientation. Other experts have pointed out that it may be accidental that the disease is spreading in gay and bisexual men, saying it could quickly spill over into other groups if it is not curbed.
The WHO issued “public health advice for gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men,” but cautioned against harmful stigmas that suggest the disease is linked to sexual orientation.
“Some cases have been identified through sexual health clinics in communities of gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men. It is important to note that the risk of monkeypox is not limited to men who have sex with men. Anyone who has close contact with someone who is infectious is at risk,” the WHO says.
John Brooks, M.D., with the CDC told the Associated Press, “Infectious diseases don’t care about borders or social networks. Some groups may have a greater chance of exposure right now, but by no means is the current risk of exposure to monkeypox” exclusive to men who have sex with men.
UNAIDS, a United Nations program on HIV/AIDS, is urging media outlets, governments, and communities to respond with an evidence-based approach that avoids stigma.
“Stigma and blame undermine trust and capacity to respond effectively during outbreaks like this one,” Matthew Kavanagh, UNAIDS deputy executive director said in the statement. “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”.
“This outbreak highlights the urgent need for leaders to strengthen pandemic prevention, including building stronger community-led capacity and human rights infrastructure to support effective and non-stigmatizing responses to outbreaks,” the statement said.
There are currently no specific treatments available for monkeypox infection, but monkeypox outbreaks can be controlled, the CDC says. The smallpox vaccine could be administered during an outbreak, and in 2019 the Food and Drug Administration approved a vaccine for monkeypox.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.