While most monkeypox infections occur through sexual contact, it is not strictly an STD in the traditional sense. But how is monkeypox different from other sexually transmitted diseases?
While sexual contact is one of the major routes through which monkeypox is spread, it is not the only route of transmission for this virus. In the traditional sense, STDs are diseases transmitted through exclusive sexual contact or at least those transmitted through genital fluids. While the current outbreak of monkeypox has spread mainly through sexual contact, the transmission has occurred due to skin-to-skin contact, which happens to be a lot during sexual contact. Therefore, while monkeypox can be transmitted to other people during sexual intercourse, the disease is not a classical STD.
Whether STD or not, monkeypox is an emerging problem for the world, and experts believe this disease may potentially cause another global scene following the COVID-19 pandemic. Therefore, knowing more about the basics of monkeypox pays off well if you are looking to protect yourself from ever acquiring this infection.
MONKEYPOX, AN STD?
It is true that the current outbreak of the monkeypox virus, especially in developing countries, has stemmed from sexual contact. Many studies suggest that men who have sex with other men account for more than 90% of the newly reported cases of monkeypox in 2022. Other studies found little to no evidence of monkeypox infection transmission among people who were either sexually inactive or unable to perform sexual activities.
From the reported evidence, it is doubtless that monkeypox is a sexually transmitted disease. However, despite the seemingly objective evidence, there is more to the story. The fact that monkeypox transmission occurs more in sexually active individuals has more to do with how this virus is transmitted than the actual act of sexual intercourse itself.
The monkeypox virus is transmitted among individuals through direct skin-to-skin contact. A person can acquire the virus if they come into contact with the blisters on an infected person’s skin or mucous membranes. Therefore, the monkeypox virus transmission does not depend on sexual intercourse. However, since sexual intercourse involves a lot of direct skin-to-skin contact, it is effortless to transmit the virus to other individuals.
Moreover, there is no conclusive evidence that monkeypox is transmitted to other individuals through genital fluids. Unlike other sexually transmitted diseases, such as HIV and herpes, there is no significant evidence that monkeypox is stored and, thus, transmitted to other individuals through the exchange of genital fluids during sexual contact.
It is clear that monkeypox, while highly transmissible during sexual intercourse, is not an STD in the traditional sense. The majority of the monkeypox cases stemming from individuals who are sexually active could be a coincidence since sexual contact also increases the risk of direct skin-to-skin contact.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF A MONKEYPOX INFECTION?
The symptoms of a monkeypox infection appear 2-3 weeks after the initial exposure to the virus. Symptoms last about 3-4 weeks and then resolve on their own in most cases.
Monkeypox infections manifest with both specific and nonspecific symptoms. The most specific symptom of a monkeypox infection is a maculopapular rash on the infection site. This rash can appear on the genital area, the anal canal, and the oral cavity, depending on where the exposure to the virus occurred.
This maculopapular rash can assume multiple appearances, but it most commonly presents as reddish papules, rash, or blisters. These blisters contain pus which hosts viral particles and are responsible for the contagious transmission of the monkeypox virus.
Nonspecific symptoms of monkeypox resemble that of a common cold. These symptoms include:
- Sore throat
- Fever and chills
- Headache and dizziness
- Fatigue and body aches
Monkeypox infections are usually self-resolving and resolve on their own within 3-4 weeks after the initial appearance of symptoms. Only symptomatic treatment is usually required, and no specific treatment is warranted in most cases.
CAN MONKEYPOX INFECTIONS BE PREVENTED?
Prevention of monkeypox infections revolves around the use of preventive vaccines and the elimination of high-risk behaviors. High-risk behaviors for monkeypox infections include unsafe sex, sharing personal hygiene products, and sharing bedsheets, towels, and clothes with others.
Since monkeypox is closely related to another family of viruses known as the smallpox virus, their genetic makeup and, thus, their preventative measures are closely related. There are at least a couple of vaccines approved by the CDC to prevent the smallpox virus. These vaccines are also effective measures in preventing monkeypox infections.
Eliminating high-risk behaviors for monkeypox infections is another effective way to reduce your chances of acquiring this virus. The most effective way to reduce your chances of acquiring monkeypox infection is to practice safe sex. Safe sex behaviors include:
- Using a new condom before every new sexual act
- Reducing the number of active sexual partners
- Getting regularly tested for monkeypox and other STD
Being open and clear with your sexual partner about your symptoms is also a highly effective way to reduce monkeypox transmission. If you or your sexual partner develop a genital rash or any other monkeypox symptoms, visit your healthcare provider at the earliest.
It is also important to restrain yourself from having sexual intercourse if you have an ongoing rash. Make sure to inform your recent sexual partners about your symptoms if you develop any.
WHAT TO DO IF I HAVE MONKEYPOX?
The first step is knowing when to be worried because not every rash indicates a monkeypox infection. If you have developed a genital, anal, or oral rash a few days or weeks after having unprotected sexual intercourse, and if you also have nonspecific symptoms resembling a common cold, you have likely acquired a monkeypox infection.
If you experience any of the symptoms listed above, visit your healthcare provider at the earliest opportunity. Your physician will conduct a series of clinical examinations and a few investigations. Your doctor may also take a swab sample from an open blister or your genital rash and send it to the nearest lab for a PCR test. PCR stands for polymerase chain reactions, providing an accurate clinical picture of many viral infections, including monkeypox.
It is important to restrain yourself from any sexual activity while you have active symptoms. Even after your symptoms resolve, wait until you have a confirmatory negative PCR report before resuming sexual activities with your partner. Talk to your doctor about the symptoms you are experiencing and discuss a treatment plan that is both suitable for you and easy to follow.