Just when we thought the COVID pandemic was behind us, people are beginning to worry about monkeypox as cases continue to rise across the United States.
White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator and dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health, Dr. Ashish Jha, spoke some truths at The Root Institute, regarding where we are as a country with the monkeypox virus.
Monkeypox is Not a New Virus
Although monkeypox has only been on our radar for a few months, scientists have known about it for over 60 years. And according to Dr. Jha, the virus does not spread easily. Monkeypox is spread through sexual activity, not from casual skin-to-skin contact. Scientists have not seen the virus spread through hugs, sharing food and drinks, or being in close proximity with an infected person, he said.
There Have Been Monkeypox Outbreaks in the US Before
Since scientists have been aware of the monkeypox virus, there have been other smaller outbreaks in the United States. However, this outbreak is getting more attention because cases have appeared around the world. “The virus has been largely endemic to a few countries, but it has not been endemic here,” said Dr. Jha. “The key is to get ahead of it now so that it does not start infecting larger groups of people.”
Monkeypox is Not the Next COVID
According to Dr. Jha, monkeypox is not a full-blown pandemic like COVID because it is not widespread amongst the entire population. Currently, most cases have been concentrated in a specific community. “It’s largely 95 percent plus spreading among men who have sex with men, gay and bisexual men,” he said.
There are Tools to Stop the Spread
Unlike the COVID-19 vaccine which took over a year to be created and tested, a monkeypox vaccine is already available. There are also treatments and ways to get tested for the virus. But as Dr. Jha states, it is not necessary to get the monkeypox vaccine right now if you are not a gay or bisexual man having sex with other men.
People are Using the Virus to Spread Racism and Homophobia
Unfortunately, some people are using monkeypox as a way to validate their bigoted beliefs. This causes misinformation and makes it more difficult for people who are at risk for the virus to get the support they need. Dr. Jha urges people to stop the stigmas about the virus.“We think it’s very important to communicate openly, respectfully, but truthfully about what’s going on and not hide behind the bush. Just talk openly and treat people with respect,” he said.