Monkeypox isn’t just spread by sexual contact

9 August 2022
What was claimed

Monkeypox is sexually transmitted.

Our verdict

Health authorities believe the current monkeypox outbreak is primarily driven by sexual contact, but that is not the only way that people can catch the disease.

What was claimed

Children are getting monkeypox.

Our verdict

A very small number of cases of monkeypox have been reported in children in the United States and Europe. Others have previously been reported in countries where the disease is endemic.

A TikTok video which has also been shared on Facebook questions why children have contracted monkeypox if the spread of the virus occurs through sexual contact.

In the video, a man says: “So let me see if I got this straight. Monkeypox is sexually transmitted. Monkeypox is on the rise. Children are getting monkeypox.”

But it is possible for both children and adults to contract monkeypox without sexual contact.

Therefore if this video is suggesting that children contracted monkeypox through sexual abuse, or questioning whether the monkeypox cases reported in children are real, either implication would be incorrect.

Since May, and for the first time, monkeypox cases have been reported in a number of countries outside west and central Africa—where the disease is endemic in several countries—in people with no travel history to the region .

According to the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) there have been 2,768 confirmed and 91 highly probable monkeypox cases in the UK as of 4 August, the majority of which have been recorded among “gay, bisexual and men who have sex with men (GBMSM) connected by sexual networks.”

However, while it’s true that health authorities believe that monkeypox is being spread through sexual contact, this is not the only way for the virus to spread.

Current NHS guidance says that monkeypox can be passed from person to person through:

  • Close physical contact with monkeypox blisters or scabs (including during sexual contact, kissing, cuddling or holding hands)
  • Touching clothing, bedding or towels used by someone with monkeypox
  • The coughs or sneezes of a person with monkeypox when they're close to you

In a technical briefing provided on 5 August, the UKHSA said: “Whilst the primary reported route is through close or sexual contact, monkeypox virus has been detected in air and environmental samples in the hospital room of infected patients.”

“There are no confirmed instances of airborne transmission. Limited household transmission has been described in the UK. Detailed investigations of some cases have found small numbers with no known route of acquisition, due to reporting no sex or other potential exposures during their incubation period.”

According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) monkeypox is not currently considered a sexually transmitted disease, although there is some debate among medical professionals about how best to classify the disease.

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Monkeypox cases confirmed in small number of children

Cases of monkeypox in children have previously been documented in countries where the disease is endemic, with the World Health Organisation (WHO) advising that “severe cases occur more commonly among children”.

During the current outbreak, a very small number of cases of monkeypox have been reported in children in the United States and Europe. The UKHSA said that, as of 5 July, there has been one case in a child under the age of 16 in the UK this year. Full Fact has asked the WHO to confirm the number of cases among children reported in countries where the disease is not endemic.

Some people have used these paediatric cases, alongside health guidance stating that the current outbreak has been primarily driven by sexual contact, to promote conspiracy theories relating to child sex abuse.

However, as we’ve explained, monkeypox can be spread in other ways that do not involve sexual contact.

Image courtesy of Geralt

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