10 Monkeypox Myths Debunked By Nurses

Gayle Morris, MSN
Updated October 10, 2023
    Recent cases of monkeypox have led to several myths that may impact diagnosis and treatment. Keep up with accurate information to help your patients.
    Featured Image
    • Monkeypox is a re-emerging viral disease that has historically been limited to seven African countries.
    • Monkeypox is not considered a sexually transmitted disease.
    • It is crucial nurses have accurate information to inform their health practices and educate their patients.

    Monkeypox is a re-emerging viral disease that was first identified in 1958. The disease has historically been endemic in just seven countries. As the virus is spreading to other countries, it is crucial for nurses and healthcare providers to have accurate information about the disease.

    Review 10 of the most common myths you may encounter about monkeypox, how it is spread, and how it is treated.

    Common Myths About Monkeypox

    1. Myth: You Can Get Monkeypox From Large Crowds

    The monkeypox virus is from the same viral family as smallpox, but it is not related to chickenpox. However, while smallpox and chickenpox can spread through respiratory droplets, monkeypox only spreads through direct contact with the rash or bodily fluids.

    Understanding how the virus spreads is essential to help educate your patients on how best to protect themselves. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) find it highly unlikely that the monkeypox virus can spread in large crowds.

    This means that to contract monkeypox in a large crowd, such as on public transit, shopping, or in a classroom, you must come into physical contact with exposed pox, rash, or body fluids.

    The CDC states that the virus spreads through close or intimate contact.

    2. Myth: Monkeypox Is a Sexually Transmitted Infection/Disease

    Monkeypox is not a sexually transmitted infection/disease (STI/STD). While current research demonstrates that sexual transmission may be the primary way of transmitting the virus, sexual transmission is not the only means of spreading monkeypox. This is vital information about monkeypox for nurses who are counseling those who are concerned about getting the virus and male patients in the LGBTQ+ community.

    The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease states that a sexually transmitted infection/disease is transmitted from one infected person to another through sexual contact. Identification of a virus that spreads only as an STI is vital public health information.

    There are strategies public health authorities can use to contain the spread of STIs that do not work when a virus spreads in multiple ways. According to the largest study to date on monkeypox, 98% of all infections have been recorded in gay or bisexual men and 41% had HIV.

    3. Myth: Only Gay or Bisexual Men Get Monkeypox

    The 2022 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine was an international collaboration of physicians who described clinical presentation and outcomes of confirmed monkeypox cases. Cases from April 27, 2022, to June 24, 2022, were described. It revealed that 98% of confirmed monkeypox occurred in gay or bisexual men.

    Researchers have found the virus spreads from contact with an open rash but the data are unclear if the virus is transmitted in semen and vaginal fluids. In other words, the current transmission in the male gay and bisexual community may be because of where the rash appears on the genitals and not because it’s spread through exposure to semen.

    4. Myth: Anyone Can Get the Monkeypox Vaccine

    People who have been exposed to monkeypox are eligible for vaccination to prevent the illness. The CDC recommends that since they have limited information about the effectiveness of these shots, people who are vaccinated should continue to take preventive steps.

    The strategy for monkeypox vaccination was announced on June 28, 2022. Several federal agencies are coordinating the vaccination strategy. Two vaccines have been approved to prevent monkeypox, although there is no current data on the effectiveness of these with the current virus. These are JYNNEOS and ACAM2000.

    At this time, the supply of JYNNEOS is limited. There is a large supply of ACAM2000, but this shot has more contraindications and side effects, including local reactions, fever, mild rash, and myocarditis.

    The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends that people with a weakened immune system should not receive ACAM2000. This includes people with cancer, transplant recipients, HIV/AIDS, or persons on steroids.

    5. Myth: Monkeypox Is as Bad as COVID-19

    Monkeypox differs from COVID-19. Where COVID-19 is caused by one of six known coronaviruses, which also cause the common cold, the monkeypox virus does not spread as quickly. As of August 2022, one case of death from monkeypox has been confirmed in the U.S.

    In 2020, people’s perceptions of infectious and contagious diseases changed dramatically. In past years, it was socially acceptable to be in public with a cold. The COVID-19 pandemic changed that perception, which may also have an impact on how people view monkeypox.

    People in any age group can get COVID-19 and monkeypox. However, those who are 65 and older have a higher risk of severe disease with COVID-19. This differentiation does not occur with monkeypox. Nurses must have this information to help lessen fears and anxiety in patients who have a high level of concern.

    6. Myth: Monkeypox Was Created in a Lab

    Monkeypox was not created in a lab. The monkeypox virus was identified in 1958 in two colonies of monkeys kept for research. African rodents and nonhuman primates are believed to have harbored the virus. The first human case was reported in 1970. Since then, cases have been limited to several central and western African countries.

    Before 2022, outbreaks outside of Africa were linked to people who had traveled to countries where the infection was endemic or through imported animals. So far, the genetic sequencing of the current monkeypox virus DNA links the virus to infections that are commonly found in West Africa.

    7. Myth: Monkeypox Is a New Virus

    Monkeypox is not a new virus at all. Health experts discovered the virus for the first time 64 years ago in 1958. Monkeypox virus is a zoonotic illness triggered by a virus in the variola family of viruses.

    Although several countries in Africa have historically been dealing with the infection for decades, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced a new naming system in August 2022. Scientists now refer to the virus that is endemic in Central Africa as Clade II and that from West Africa as Clade II. Inside Clade II, scientists believe there are two subclades, Clade IIa and Clade IIb.

    It is Clade IIb that the WHO believes is responsible for the current outbreak, which has infected roughly 19,500 people in the U.S.

    8. Myth: There Is No Treatment for Monkeypox Infection

    The CDC states there are no specific treatments for monkeypox infections. However, most people fully recover with care in 2-4 weeks. This includes medication to help relieve the symptoms, prevent dehydration, and antibiotics only if there is a secondary bacterial infection.

    Patients who may be at risk for severe illness, such as those with a weakened immune system, may be candidates for antiviral medications, like tecovirimat. The drug has been used for the treatment of smallpox. Side effects include headache, nausea, hives, difficulty breathing, and swelling of the face, lips, and tongue.

    9. Myth: Having Chickenpox or Shingles Protects Someone From Monkeypox

    Although both chickenpox and monkeypox have “pox” in the name, the viruses that trigger the illness are not related. Monkeypox is from the variola family of viruses and chickenpox and shingles are caused by the varicella-zoster virus.

    Adults who had the smallpox vaccine when they were younger may have some protection against monkeypox since they are from the same family of viruses. According to data collected in Africa, the smallpox vaccine was at least 85% effective in preventing monkeypox.

    It is also important to note that monkeypox is not as severe as smallpox, and most people fully recover with no medication.

    10. Myth: You Are More at Risk of Monkeypox if You Had COVID-19

    There are key differences between COVID-19 and monkeypox that make monkeypox much less serious than COVID-19. However, according to the WHO, healthcare professionals are currently trying to answer the question of whether people who had COVID or have long COVID may have a higher risk of contracting monkeypox.

    More studies are needed to prove or disprove an increased risk. To date, it does not appear that long COVID significantly weakens the immune system in the same way that cancer, HIV/AIDS, and being a transplant recipient do.