“This is an outbreak that can be stopped if countries, communities and individuals inform themselves, take the risks seriously and take the necessary steps to stop transmission and protect vulnerable groups. The best way to do that is to reduce the risk of exposure. And that means making safe choices for yourself and others.
“For MSM, this includes, for the time being, reducing the number of your sexual partners, reconsidering sex with new partners and exchanging contact details with any new partners to enable follow-up, if necessary,” Tedros told a news briefing.
While Tedros said the focus for all countries should be on engaging and empowering MSM communities to reduce the risks of infection and transmission, he also cautioned countries to protect human rights.
“Stigma and discrimination can be as dangerous as any virus,” he said.
Monkeypox is not considered a sexually transmitted disease, but most people who have contracted it in the United States have recently reported some level of sexual activity, according to Dr. Dimitri Daskalakis, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention official who works on the monkeypox response, to CNN this month. This can include penetrative encounters as well as oral sex.
The virus is spread primarily through physical contact on the skin, but it can also be transmitted by touching objects such as sheets or towels that a person with monkeypox may have used, as well as through close face-to-face interactions such as kissing.
Tedros’ comments about limiting sex partners are among the strongest yet on the matter. Other WHO connections are not acutely described.
US health officials have also advised reducing sex partners but using softer language.
“Avoid skin-to-skin contact, including intimate contact, with people who have a rash resembling monkeypox. Other harm reduction measures include reducing sexual activity with multiple or anonymous sexual partners,” said CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Wallinsky in mid July.
Daskalakis advised last week, “In line with our harm reduction guidelines, consider reducing the number of your associates, potentially trying to avoid anonymous contacts ends up being smart from an exposure risk reduction perspective.”
The CDC also says that people may want to minimize skin contact as much as possible by having sex with clothing or after covering areas where the rash is present. If they choose to have sex with someone who has or may have had monkeypox, they should talk about the virus early on.
Another thing people can do to protect themselves is to avoid direct face-to-face contact such as kissing with those who are visibly infected.
Scientists are still studying how monkeypox spreads in this outbreak, but they say people don’t seem to get sick yet, for example, by walking next to or hugging someone and brushing a lesion on their skin.
“If it’s a hug that doesn’t necessarily involve a shirt, there’s a theoretical risk of transmission there, but that’s not what we’re hearing in terms of what’s going on in our cases, so it’s less risky. I can’t say zero,” Deskalakis said.
Instead, it seems that the longer contact is responsible for most cases now. “If you ask me how long ‘length’ is, I can’t answer that question, but it seems possible that this isn’t transmitted by a light brush,” Daskalaskis said. “Realistically, skin-to-skin contact could theoretically transmit any type of monkeypox, but what we’re seeing is that you kind of have to work on solving it a little bit.”
CNN’s Jane Christensen contributed to this report.
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