In May 2022, a small number of cases of a rare disease called mpox (previously referred to as monkeypox) were reported in the U.S., Canada, and several European countries—places where the disease isn’t usually found. Widespread changes in the behaviors of gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men who were disproportionately impacted by the infection were credited with slowing the outbreak last summer.
While new cases are emerging in summer 2023, the lessons learned from last summer should help limit the spread of the infection. Read on to learn more about mpox and ways you can protect your sexual health.
What is mpox?
Mpox is an infection caused by a virus. The mpox virus can be spread through close skin-to-skin contact with a person who is infected. Given that, mpox can be passed on by intimate sexual contact. Most of the cases in the U.S. have been diagnosed have been among cis men who have sex with men, but mpox can affect anyone of any gender or sexual orientation.
What are the symptoms of mpox?
Mpox causes sores (see more on that below) on the skin. It’s contact with these sores, or fluid from these sores, that can spread the disease. So skin-to-skin contact, or contact with an infected person’s towels, clothing, or bedding, can pass on the infection. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) also notes that the virus can be spread by saliva respiratory secretions during “prolonged, face-to-face contact”….so, kissing and extended intimate contact present a risk. Currently, though, it’s not clear if mpox can spread through semen or vaginal fluids.
CDC reported that, as of February 2023, new data have shown that some people can spread mpox to others from one to four days before their symptoms appear. There is currently no evidence showing that people who never develop symptoms have spread the virus to someone else.
What are the symptoms of mpox?
The first symptoms are usually fever, headache, muscle aches, and backache. The infection may also cause swollen lymph nodes and exhaustion. A few days after these first symptoms, a rash or sores (as discussed above) can appear. The rash or sores often start on the face and then spread to other areas of the body, including the genitals, where the sores might be mistaken for herpes or syphilis.
Symptoms can last 2-4 weeks, and the infection usually resolves on its own. However, if you have any symptoms, especially an unusual rash or sores, it’s important to see a health care provider for an accurate diagnosis.
The Mpox Vaccine
There is a vaccine called JYNNEOS that can protect against mpox and smallpox infections. The vaccine is given in two doses, four weeks apart. As with most vaccines, the mpox vaccine isn’t 100% effective, but getting vaccinated with two doses is an important way to prevent mpox. Vaccination makes the chance of getting and spreading mpox less likely and helps makes symptoms less severe if a person is infected.
Currently, the CDC recommends mpox vaccine for people who are likely to be exposed to mpox including gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men/transgender partners who have engaged in certain behaviors. You can learn more and find an mpox vaccination site neat you on the CDC website.
Taking Care of Your Sexual Health
As a reminder, mpox infection is very rare and there have been very few cases in the United States. But there are things you can do to reduce the already low risk.
- Get vaccinated: Two doses of the vaccine offer the best protection
- Get tested: If you have been in close contact with someone who has mpox or have any symptoms associated with mpox, see a health care provider and get tested.
- Talk to your sex partners: This is always a good idea and a great way to take care of your sexual health.
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Last updated: May 22, 2023