Actually, Yes, Monkeypox Is Likely An STD, Scientists Say

(Photo by ERNESTO BENAVIDES/AFP via Getty Images)

Dylan Housman Deputy News Editor
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The viral outbreak occurring almost exclusively amongst men who have sex with men is likely caused by men having sex with men, new research shows.

Three new studies, each published within the past month, conclude that the evidence suggests monkeypox is primarily spread through sexual intercourse between men, not the skin contact that occurs during sex. Many experts and health agencies previously advised that monkeypox spread largely through skin-to-skin contact, which didn’t necessarily have to occur in a sexual context.

“A growing body of evidence supports that sexual transmission, particularly through seminal fluids, is occurring with the current MPX outbreak,” Dr. Aniruddha Hazra, medical director at the University of Chicago Sexual Wellness Clinic, told NBC News.

“It looks very clear to us that this is an infection that is transmitting sexually the vast majority of the time,” resident physician in global health at Brigham and Women’s Hospital Lao-Tzu Allan-Blitz said, according to NBC News.

University of Southern California infectious disease doctor Jeffrey Klausner, who has submitted an essay to scientific journals for publication with Allan-Blitz reviewing the evidence that monkeypox is an STD, said there’s a variety of evidence that points to the virus being sexually transmitted beyond just correlation with gay men.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), three-quarters of monkeypox cases are in men between ages 18 and 44, which is consistent with the normal age distribution for sexually transmitted infections, Klausner told NBC. The majority of lesions on patients bodies have also been found in the oral and anal regions, a sign of sexual transmission, he said. Researchers have also found the virus in semen.

The evidence doesn’t mean that women or heterosexuals cannot be infected with monkeypox, but explains why the overwhelming majority of cases have been in men who have sex with other men. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 94% of cases are in men who have sex with other men, and 99% of cases are in men overall.

Some health experts have cautioned gay and bisexual men against having numerous or anonymous partners given the increased risk that behavior opens them up to. The WHO has issued an official recommendation for men not to have sex with anonymous partners or a high number of partners to protect themselves from an increased risk of monkeypox infection. (RELATED: Man’s Nose Rots After Monkeypox, Syphilis And HIV Infection)

Still, the CDC has not made any such recommendation, nor has it pivoted its messaging on monkeypox to treat it as an STD. The agency is continuing to warn that monkeypox is spread through close skin-to-skin contact despite mounting evidence to the contrary. Some experts have said that public health officials are hesitant to treat the virus as an STD for gay men due to the stigma that may afflict on the LGBT community.