CDC Advises: Monkeypox Can Affect Anyone; It's Not an 'Exclusively Gay' Disease

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Tuesday May 24, 2022

In this stock image a man presents with chickenpox, a disease caused by a different virus than monkeypox, but which causes somewhat similar skin lesions.
In this stock image a man presents with chickenpox, a disease caused by a different virus than monkeypox, but which causes somewhat similar skin lesions.  (Source:Getty Images)

The CDC advises that although a "notable fraction" of cases in the monkeypox outbreak affect men who have sex with men, the disease is "by no means" limited to "the gay and bisexual community," CNN reported.

A key takeaway to the CDC's advisement is that monkeypox can be transmitted via "close contact with someone who may have the virus," and "that anyone can contract monkeypox through close personal contact regardless of sexual orientation," according to CNBC.

"Some groups may have a greater chance of exposure right now," Dr. John Brooks, chief medical officer for the CDC's Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention, said. "But by no means is the current risk of exposure to monkeypox exclusively to the gay and bisexual community in the US."

Brooks went on to say, "Anyone, anyone, can develop [and] spread monkeypox infection," the CNN article added, though he also noted that "many of those affected in the current global outbreak identified as gay and bisexual men."

"In some cases, during the early stages of illness, the rash has been mostly in the genital and perianal area," and pointed out that in "some cases, it has produced anal or genital lesions that look like other diseases like herpes or chickenpox or syphilis," Brooks said.

Explaining his comments, Brooks said, "What we're trying to do by bringing attention to the fact that some of these cases have had a genital and perianal presentation is just to remind people that people may come in for an evaluation of what they think is an STD, but we'd like the provider to think 'could it be monkeypox as well?' if the circumstances fit the story."

"Monkeypox is not a sexually transmitted disease, but it can spread through intimate contact during sex when someone has an active rash," CNN noted, adding that the disease can also be transmitted "through direct contact with bodily fluids or through contact with contaminated clothes or bedsheets".

Writing about "germ panic" and the potential for stigmatization of men who have sex with men (MSM), the University of Sheffield's Andrew Less wrote in an article for The Conversation that "Strange new infectious diseases that the public is unfamiliar with, such as monkeypox, can generate a disproportionate degree of fear in the population," in part due to an unfamiliar disease's "'exotic' nature... and the perception that it is spreading quickly and invisibly in the population."

Lee took note of the history of MSM being stigmatized over health panics, most notably in the case of the AIDS epidemic, and tied that ongoing stigma to "a strong undercurrent of homophobia even in countries with strong LGBTQ+ rights."

In the case of monkeypox, Lee noted, an additional danger to stigmatizing the affliction as a "gay" or "MSM disease" "is that others who [are] at risk — for example, household members — may not realize" that non-sexual contact can also transmit monkeypox, and thus "fail to protect themselves" from exposure.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.