A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that between April and June 2022, 98% of infections in 16 countries were among men who have sex with men, but it’s not clear why. It could just be a coincidence – once a disease is introduced to a community, it tends to spread within that community. And there’s no evidence that monkeypox passes through a population of men who have sex with men any faster than any other group. There is also no evidence that it is more contagious for men than women.
“We don’t know if the virus can spread specifically through sexual transmission routes, such as through vaginal secretions or semen, but it seems that intimate contact promotes the spread,” says Barron.
Although monkeypox virus DNA has been found in semen by researchers, that doesn’t necessarily mean it spreads that way. The monkeypox virus is a packet of genetic information encased in an envelope of proteins and a membrane. It requires all of these components to be in good working order if it is to infect cells, and while viral DNA can be detected in semen, the virus itself may not be viable and capable of infection.
How dangerous is monkey pox?
Another important thing to know about monkey pox is that it is very unpleasant. The mortality rate of the current species is about 1% and at the time of writing, three deaths have been reported since the beginning of the year in the outbreaks outside Africa and five deaths in African countries where the disease is endemic.
Compared to the Central African strain of monkeypox virus, the West African version is generally associated with milder illness and fewer deaths.
But even if the odds of dying are relatively low, monkey pox patients have reported how painful and debilitating it is.
“It’s long, it’s filthy, and you don’t want to get it,” Barron says. “People will feel flu-like symptoms at first, with fever, headache, that sort of thing, but as the disease progresses, you get a multi-stage rash, lesions can develop in your mouth, your feet, and genital region, and these develop into pus-filled blisters.”