Monkeypox has recently been on the rise, especially in western countries. One of the ways through which this virus spreads is through sexual contact. However, is it right to say that monkeypox is a sexually transmitted disease?
In a nutshell, monkeypox is not an STD in the traditional sense. Monkeypox indeed spreads through sexual contact, and most affected people acquire it through sexual intercourse. However, sexual contact is one of the many ways this virus can spread. The main transmission route for monkeypox happens to be skin-to-skin contact, and it just so happens that sexual intercourse involves a lot of skin contact. People who are not sexually active can still acquire monkeypox if they come into contact with an affected person's blisters.
Although monkeypox is not an exclusive STD, meaning that it has multiple transmission routes, most people who acquire this virus are men who have sexual intercourse with other men. Therefore, it pays off well to know more about this virus and how you can protect yourself from ever acquiring this disease.
IS MONKEYPOX AN STD?
A virus causes monkeypox, aptly named the monkeypox virus. Monkeypox is usually a self-limiting disease, and the symptoms resolve on their own after around 2-4 weeks. Currently, however, most of the world's population is experiencing an aggressive outbreak, and the number of positive cases of monkeypox is on the rise.
Once infected with monkeypox, a person develops several blisters around the site of infection. These blisters are filled with pus and cell debris, and they can appear on the skin as well as the mucous membranes of the infected person. Other people can get monkeypox if they contact these blisters on an infected person.
As mentioned before, sexual intercourse is a significant route for monkeypox transmission. "Around 98% of monkeypox transmission is among men who have sex with other men", explains New York University’s biologist Joseph Osmundson.
Epidemiological data from countries experiencing the monkeypox outbreak also suggests that gay and sexually active men are the primary demographic affected by this virus. Moreover, very few to no cases have been reported among people who are sexually inactive or unable to have sexual intercourse.
Sexual intercourse is by far the most likely way of transmission during the current outbreak. However, sexual intercourse is not the only exclusive transmission route for this virus.
As pointed out before, a person can acquire the monkeypox virus from an affected person when they come into contact with the characteristic blisters on their skin. Since sexual intercourse involves a lot of skin-to-skin contacts, it provides an excellent way of transmitting this virus. This may be why so many reported cases of monkeypox to arise from the sexually active demographic of the population. However, there are so many more ways through which this virus can transmit to other people.
For example, a simple act of touching an infected person and coming into contact with their blisters puts you at risk of acquiring this disease. Sharing an infected person's clothes, personal hygiene products, and even bed sheets may also risk acquiring monkeypox.
Monkeypox is not the only example of a disease that spreads through sexual contact but is not exclusively an STD. Other similar diseases include hepatitis B and C. Therefore, while it is true that this virus spreads through sexual contact, monkeypox is not exclusively an STD.
WHAT ARE THE MAIN SYMPTOMS OF MONKEYPOX?
Monkeypox infection has both specific and nonspecific symptoms. A rash on the site is one of the most specific symptoms that characterize a monkeypox infection. Usually, this rash is located on the genitals, the anal canal, or the mouth. However, monkeypox rash can spread on any body surface, including the hands and the feet.
This rash goes through multiple stages before it finally resolves on its own in 2-4 weeks. The initial presentation of this rash can be in the form of blisters, pimples, or even scabs. It is also worth noticing that the monkeypox rash does not always appear at the start of the infection. Sometimes, the nonspecific symptoms of a monkeypox infection appear earlier than the rash itself.
Other nonspecific symptoms of monkeypox resemble a flu-like syndrome. These include:
- Lymph node swelling
- Body aches
- Sore throat and congestion
Another critical thing to remember is that not everyone infected with monkeypox will suffer from similar symptoms. This is because symptoms of monkeypox do not appear in chronological order, and some symptoms do not appear in some people.
The monkeypox symptoms usually appear 3 weeks after a person is exposed to the virus. As mentioned before, these symptoms do not follow a chronological order. However, for most people, exposure-site rash appears within 1-4 days after a person has developed flu-like symptoms.
HOW IS MONKEYPOX DIAGNOSED?
A careful history and clinical examination by your healthcare provider form the basis of diagnosis for monkeypox. Usually, the genital rash and swollen lymph nodes are a giveaway. However, a conclusive diagnostic test is always warranted for an accurate diagnosis.
Your healthcare provider may take a swab sample from an open sore or a blister and send it to the lab for PCR testing. PCR stands for a polymerase chain reaction, which is effectively a method to amplify the sample that is taken, test it against all the known viral DNAs, and hope for a match. This method is also known as genetic fingerprinting, providing conclusive evidence for the presence of monkeypox virus in an individual.
IS MONKEYPOX CURABLE?
There is no known cure for monkeypox. However, since monkeypox and smallpox viruses are very similar, drugs and vaccines available for smallpox may also provide adequate protection against monkeypox.
Antiviral drugs, such as Ticovirimat, are highly effective against monkeypox. At least a couple of vaccines approved by the CDC provide adequate protection against the monkeypox virus. The nonspecific symptoms of monkeypox can be managed conservatively, and symptomatic treatment is usually enough to provide adequate relief.
While there is no cure for monkeypox, it is usually a self-limiting disease. Most people infected with the monkeypox virus usually recover after about 2-4 weeks of the symptomatic stage.