Updated November 28, 2022
Monkeypox is a rare disease caused by infection with mpox (monkeypox virus). It was first discovered in 1958. The virus is spread by skin-to-skin contact with an infected person, contact with contaminated clothes or linen, or contact with respiratory secretions from an infected individual. Scientists are currently investigating how often it is spread via respiratory secretions. The virus is usually abbreviated as mpox.
In May 2022, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported it is tracking cases of mpox in several countries that don’t normally report monkeypox, including the United States. On June 1, the CDC issued a new case definition that informs medical providers how to diagnose the virus. A CDC statement released May 18 says “anyone can spread monkeypox, regardless of sexual orientation,” while also noting the current tracking suggests “gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men make up a high number of cases.” Early data of the current outbreak shows 98% of the cases were among gay or bisexual men. 41% of cases are people living with HIV. Additional CDC data released August 12 suggests Black and Latinx people are disproportionately affected, underscoring the necessity of equitable access to mpox testing, treatment, and preventative measures. Independent public health researchers noted that limited testing capacity so far made it difficult to accurately measure more recent cases and spread. The federal government has expanded testing capacity as of mid-July.
Updates on Mpox Response
On August 4, Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Bacerra declared the monkeypox virus (mpox) outbreak a public health emergency in the United States. The declaration will help mobilize agencies to accelerate access to mpox vaccines and treatments to communities. On August 9, Secretary Bacerra announced he was exercising emergency authorization to allow the FDA to safely increase the availability of mpox vaccines. An alternate dosing regimen program allows healthcare providers to administer up to five times the number of doses per vial of the JYNNEOS vaccine.
FDA said the JYNNEOS vaccine can be delivered intradermally, which requires a smaller dose, while ensuring the vaccine continues to meet standards for safety and quality. In light of this emergency authorization, HHS announced August 15 that it was accelerating the rollout of additional JYNNEOS vaccine doses to states and jurisdictions, making available double the number of doses as originally anticipated.
FDA also announced it is authorizing use of the mpox vaccine, using standard dosing, in people younger than 18 years old who are at high risk of mpox infection.
The White House appointed Robert Fenton as National Monkeypox Response Coordinator and Dr. Demetre Daskalakis as Deputy Coordinator on August 2. The team will lead strategy and operations to combat the current mpox outbreak, “including equitably increasing the availability of tests, vaccinations and treatments.” Fenton has twice served as acting administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, including leading the mass vaccination program for the Biden administration last year. Dr. Daskalakis has served as the CDC’s Director of the Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention since November 2020 and has dedicated his medical career to caring for the LGBTQ community and people living with HIV.
A CDC statement released May 18 says “anyone can spread monkeypox, regardless of sexual orientation.”
Close, skin-to-skin contact to an infected person puts them at greater risk of infection. Dr. Demetre Daskalakis noted mpox transmission is similar to the MRSA outbreak in 2008, with lessons we can apply for public health messaging and media coverage. With MRSA, athletes could be especially at risk because of close physical contact and shared facilities, not because they are athletes. Dr. Daskalakis reiterated that mpox transmission is more accurately linked to behavior than to a person’s identity.
The CDC is urging healthcare providers to be alert for patients who have rash illnesses consistent with mpox, regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation. The CDC also issued a factsheet for community members, and a page where frequently asked questions are answered.
Mpox cases do occur in all populations, such as cisgender women. Texas reported its first case of a woman with mpox in late July, and one of the first cases in the U.S. occured in May when a woman in Virginia acquired the virus. As of August 12, the CDC still recommends that public health efforts “prioritize gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men, who are currently disproportionately affected,” while taking active steps to combat stigma, debunk misinformation, and address equity concerns.
While mpox is not classified a sexually transmitted disease, it appears to be transmitted at a higher rate through sex, which has a high rate of skin-to-skin contact. Any skin-to-skin contact with someone with mpox can lead to a possible new cases of mpox. A survey of gay and bisexual American men released August 22 found that roughly half of participants had reduced their number of sexual partners (48%) or one-time sexual encounters (50%) to protect themselves and their partners from mpox.
Mpox can be transmitted through any skin-to-skin contact or contact with contaminated linens.
GLAAD’s checklist for public health leaders, elected officials and media alerting the public about mpox and other viruses:
All stories that mention LGBTQ people should include LGBTQ voices. If a public official or public health messaging singles out the LGBTQ community, seek and include LGBTQ voices and expertise, including LGBTQ community members, medical professionals, and advocates who have spent decades fighting stigma, to ensure accurate, inclusive and compassionate public health reporting. GLAAD can connect you with resources.
Exercise editorial judgment as to whether to single out or elevate LGBTQ people in stories that broadly relate to the public at large.
Emphasize how transmission of the virus is related to behaviors rather than to communities or identities.
Include facts that broaden public health alerts to reach the largest possible audience. Remember that anyone can become infected with mpox, the virus that causes monkeypox, if they come into close contact.
Use multimedia resources to reach as many people as possible with vital public health information. The CDC offers short, embeddable videos that explain how mpox is transmitted, and GLAAD has created social media graphics that can be circulated or replicated.
- Protect patient privacy, even when photographing or filming in a public place, such as a line outside a clinic or vaccination site. Do not publish identifiable photos or videos of people waiting for any kind of medical testing, vaccination, or treatment without their consent. Vaccine eligibility may reveal personal information that some may not want to share with the public. Take extra steps to blur any identifying areas such as faces or tattoos.
Use the mpox (short for monkeypox virus) to help reduce stigma and sensationalizing. It is acceptable to use the term monkeypox on first mention for context, and then to use mpox thereafter.
Consult, and encourage newsroom colleagues to read, GLAAD’s Media Reference Guide, now in its 11th edition. The Guide offers education and guidance on telling LGBTQ people’s stories in ways that bring out the best in journalism, and includes sections on health, COVID-19 and HIV.
GLAAD was founded in 1985 to monitor media to ensure accurate and respectful reporting about people diagnosed with HIV/AIDS. 41 years after the first cases were identified, stigma about HIV and misinformation about the virus continue to drive new infections, despite the fact that medical and scientific breakthroughs have made HIV almost completely preventable with PrEP medication against contracting the virus, and advances in treatment for those living with HIV that, when effectively treated, HIV can be suppressed to the point of being undetectable and therefore, untransmittable, U=U. It’s as important as ever to center the facts, whether about HIV, COVID-19, or any threat to public health.
About GLAAD: GLAAD rewrites the script for LGBTQ acceptance. As a dynamic media force, GLAAD tackles tough issues to shape the narrative and provoke dialogue that leads to cultural change. GLAAD protects all that has been accomplished and creates a world where everyone can live the life they love. For more information, please visit www.glaad.org or connect with GLAAD on Facebook and Twitter.