Cases of monkey pox detected in United Kingdom and Portugall, as well as the suspects being studied in Spain, have generated quite a stir. It is not for less, because we come from more than two years of pandemic and even the most innocent of outbreaks leaves our hearts in a fist. But as usual in these cases, this fuss is giving rise to a lot of misinformation. For example, it is being wrongly commented that monkeypox is a sexually transmitted disease (STD).
This idea comes from the fact that, apparently, a good part of the cases detected are gay or bisexual men. In short, men who acknowledge having recently had sexual relations with other men. This leads one to think that monkeypox is an STD and that it also only affects men, but both are incorrect ideas.
On the other hand, the Minister of Health of the Government of Spain, Carolina Darias, wanted to correct this error in an interview in La Sexta, arguing that it is not an STD, but a virus. But that is not the best argument to deny that it is sexually transmitted, basically because the vast majority of diseases of this type are virus-borne. Good example of this are HIV or human papillomavirus. But then, what is the correct explanation? Why can we ensure that monkeypox is not an STD? To find out, it is best to start at the beginning.
What is an STD?
In reality, and despite the fact that it is still used by many people, the term “sexually transmitted disease (STD)” is an obsolete qualification. Today they are more correctly known as sexually transmitted infections (STIs). This is because a person may be infected but not develop any disease. It occurs very commonly with the human papillomavirus (HPV).
As for its definition, as its name indicates, they are those infections that are transmitted mainly due to contact of mucous membranes and fluids during sexual intercourse. It is important to focus on that “mostly”, as there may also be other routes of contagion. For example, by the exchange of syringes contaminated with blood or from mothers to children during pregnancy, childbirth or breastfeeding. But that is not the main route of transmission.
They are not transmitted through respiratory secretions or other fluids, such as saliva, hence other routes of infection are ruled out. This is why monkeypox cannot be considered an STD.
The biases of this monkeypox outbreak
Monkeypox is much more common in Africa, especially in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and some countries in the western part of the continent. However, there have been some very limited outbreaks from time to time in other parts of the world.
It is known as monkeypox because was first described in 1958after being detected in lab monkeys. It can also be found in apes in the wild. However, their main animal reservoir is usually rodents
As for the infection between humans, it is mainly due to contact with fluids of patients, as well as with secretions from their skin lesions. These fluids also include respiratory secretionsalthough for this type of contagion to occur there must be very close and prolonged direct contact.
In short, there are many routes of contagion, so sexual is just one more. However, if we look at this outbreak, coincidentally it seems that the vast majority of infections have occurred among men who have had sex with other men. This generates a bias that can lead us to think that it is an STD. If we only look at that, and not at the thousands of infections that take place every year on the African continent, we might think that the transmission is sexual.
But if we look at the COVID-19 outbreaks that took place in nursing homes during the beginning of the pandemic, we might think that it is a disease that only affects older people. Or if we focus on the outbreaks that happened in prisons, we might think that it is a virus that can only infect inmates. The coronavirus itself can be transmitted during sexual intercourse, in which people breathe heavily, close together and usually in closed places. But it is not an STD.
So no, monkeypox is not a sexually transmitted disease. Nor is it an exclusive disease of men, and much less of homosexual people. The trees are not letting us see the forest. The options are much broader and it is the responsibility of the relevant health authorities track what is happening. The good news is that it is not as highly contagious as COVID-19, so there is hope of stopping it. But no, no matter how many memes are made on the internet about the luck of Twitter users as it is a sexually transmitted disease, not even they would be safe if it spreads.