Skip to content

Virus Expert Just Issued This "Essential" Monkeypox Update

Here’s who is most at risk.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

Dr. Michael Osterholm, Director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, has been issuing Cassandra-like warnings about the official response to the monkeypox outbreak for several weeks now. The threat is real. How can you stay safe? Here is what he thinks will happen next with the virus on a new episode of The Osterholm Update. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


Monkeypox Is Spreading Incredibly Fast

Palm patient erythema in red in ulcers from inflammation.

"Unfortunately I see a lot of discussion going on in the public health community, even in the medical community, that really is not based on what I would consider to be state-of-the-art science, and most importantly the facts," says Dr. Osterholm. "I am very concerned about this outbreak, which has now reached over 24,000 reported cases globally, over 6,000 of which have been identified in the United States. Just for some perspective in these numbers, one month ago on our July 7th episode, there were only 7,000 global cases and only 560 cases in the US. Eight weeks ago, there were just 780 confirmed cases around the world. And unfortunately we have no reason to expect this rapid increase in cases to slow down anytime soon."


Monkeypox Is Primarily Sexually Transmitted

couple in live holding hads while lying in bed together

"Although that is surely a remote possibility that you can transmit the virus via breathing in air from someone who's infected, the primary mechanism of transmission for this virus has been and continues to be sexually transmitted," says Dr. Osterholm. "This is a term that unfortunately for some has been seen as stigmatizing gay men. And what we have to do in public health is basically just call balls and strikes… ​​ Let me be really clear. Sexually transmitted infections can also be transmitted by non-sexual means that's true for virtually every one of them. So this distinction that it can be transmitted by other routes beyond sex does not at all disqualify it from being a sexually transmitted infection, particularly when the majority of transmission is in that category."


Gay Men Should Not Be Stigmatized


"What we have to be mindful of is we have networks of individuals who have frequent sexual contact with anonymous partners and move around the world relatively quickly," says Dr. Osterholm. "As an epidemiologist, when I look at the issue of potential for transmission, I look at how it might in a given community, this virus be transmitted from one person to another. I worry that when we talk about stigmatization of gay men, as we discuss the pandemic, people say, well, you can't  talk about this or look what will happen. In fact, it's just the opposite. I would tell you right now, there are many, many more gay men who have very little risk at all of contracting this virus."


A Small Community Is Most At Risk


"In a survey that was done by the University of Chicago, called the General Social Survey, data collected from 2008 to 2018 remains the definitive data that we use to understand human sexuality across all populations. And in this survey for individuals here in the United States, it found that among gay men, 52% reported zero to 10 partners in their entire lifetime, 10% reported, 100 or one or more partners in their lifetime. And for 1.9% reported more than 400 sexual contacts in their lifetime. Now it is in this group of much more highly, sexually active individuals that we're seeing a tremendous amount of transmission."


Will There Be Enough Vaccines?

Female doctor or nurse giving shot or vaccine to a patient's shoulder. Vaccination and prevention against flu or virus pandemic.

"When we look at this issue, as an epidemiologist, we're all about prevention," says Dr. Osterholm. "And right now we will continue to see a major shortfall of vaccines for the world because there is virtually only one company now manufacturing this vaccine and every country wants it. Fortunately, the United States will likely have greater access because it was our government that over the course of the last ten years led and funded the research that has now given us what we call the MVA vaccines or JYNNEOS vaccine known here in this country, but make no mistake. It is going to be far, far short of what we need." And don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Ferozan Mast
Ferozan Mast is a science, health and wellness writer with a passion for making science and research-backed information accessible to a general audience. Read more about Ferozan
Filed Under