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How do you get monkeypox? Sex guidelines are under debate

Jason Laughlin, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in Health & Fitness

PHILADELPHIA -- The last weekend of August, party promoter Jeremy Taylor hosted a dance at a Broad Street club in Philadelphia featuring tracks from Beyonce’s latest album and cards telling guests where to get monkeypox vaccinations.

Protecting people from a new virus spreading rapidly over the summer was a priority for Taylor, who hosts events under the name JayLaTay. His dances draw many people who identify as Black and LGBTQ — a population in Philadelphia that’s more likely to contract monkeypox, and less likely to be vaccinated against it.

Warnings about the virus transmitting through sustained physical contact didn’t phase Taylor, who saw little risk that dancing at the venue beneath the Divine Lorraine would endanger guests.

“That type of casual contact, it’s highly unlikely for people to transmit,” Taylor said.

Evidence suggests Taylor is right.

The real risk comes from sex, according to increasing data on the outbreak that’s primarily spreading among men who have sex with men. It remains unclear if semen is specifically playing a role in transmission. The Centers for Disease Control’s online guidance continues to highlight physical contact as risky, or contact with objects that touched the skin lesions caused by monkeypox, Yet in an update to their online guidance posted Wednesday, the CDC stated transmission is “almost exclusively associated with sexual contact in the current outbreak.”

 

“We just haven’t seen a substantial number of people saying my only exposure is going to this shirtless sweaty dance party,” said Jeffrey Klausner, a doctor and expert in sexually transmitted diseases at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine.

Steven Thrasher, a professor of journalism at Northwestern University’s Institute for Sexual and Gender Minority Health and Wellbeing, wrote an article last month in Scientific American arguing that monkeypox should be called a sexually transmitted infection.

In an interview, he questioned whether the CDC has been doing more harm than good with its messaging, noting that while contracting monkeypox through different types of extended physical contact is possible, the federal health organization’s own data has found that 94% of cases were associated with sex or similarly intimate contact.

“It’s very dangerous ... to make people very afraid of activities that are very low risk,” Thrasher said.

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