Social posts push falsehood that monkeypox can only affect gay men
CLAIM: Monkeypox can only be spread among gay men.
AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. While the overwhelming majority of cases in the current outbreak in the U.S. and Europe have so far been among men who have sex with men, experts and officials say the virus can be transmitted to anyone.
THE FACTS: As monkeypox has spread and following the World Health Organization’s declaration that it is a global emergency, social media posts have pushed an erroneous narrative that the virus can only be transmitted among gay men.
“The ‘I have immunity to monkeypox’ starter kit,” declared a meme widely shared on Facebook, which included four depictions of heterosexual couples and families. Similar posts were shared on Twitter and TikTok.
But it’s false to suggest the virus can only affect gay or bisexual men, or that anal sex is the only way it is transmitted.
“Sexual orientation does not confer immunity to monkeypox,” Dr. W. Ian Lipkin, a Columbia University epidemiologist, told The Associated Press in an email. “Furthermore, one can become infected without sexual activity.”
Dr. Sharon Walmsley, a senior scientist at the Toronto General Hospital Research Institute who co-authored a recent study looking at hundreds of monkeypox infections across 16 countries, similarly said: “There is no evidence that heterosexual people have immunity and some have acquired infection.”
Walmsley noted in an email that researchers believe monkeypox is spread through close contact, including sexual activity, but it is not confirmed if the virus is being spread via bodily fluids such as semen during sexual intercourse.
As The Associated Press has reported, scientists believe the primary route of transmission during the current outbreak has been skin-to-skin contact during sexual encounters with someone who has symptoms. The virus also may spread through saliva and respiratory droplets during prolonged, face-to-face contact, such as during kissing and cuddling — a kind of spread that can occur outside of sex.
Additionally, transmission could occur through touching fabrics or objects, such as bedding or towels or sex toys, used by a person with monkeypox, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The U.S. has reported some monkeypox cases in some women and at least two in children. Officials suspect the cases in the children were due to household transmission.
Monkeypox symptoms can include fever, chills, body aches and bumps on parts of the body. The lesions caused by the virus can be extremely painful.
Officials have tried to raise awareness about the risks to men who have sex with men, while also noting that the virus can still affect anyone. The WHO has recommended that men who have sex with men reduce their number of sexual partners.
California and New York have both declared a state of emergency over the outbreak.
This is part of AP’s effort to address widely shared misinformation, including work with outside companies and organizations to add factual context to misleading content that is circulating online. Learn more about fact-checking at AP.