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WNY health officials on monkeypox: 'People really need to be calm about this'

A Black person with short, thick hair and prescription glasses sits at an organized workstation, using a magnification app to navigate a webpage. Their posture is proper and relaxed. On the desk: a computer, a mouse, a large desk lamp and a small notebook.
Sherm for Disabled And Here
(Stock illustration) With an abundance of content on the internet, finding reliable information about monkeypox can be confusing.

Monkeypox has been causing a lot of stress and confusion as people share both fact and fiction on social media. Dr. Gale Burstein, the health commissioner for Erie County, stresses that right now, it's important to remain calm and consider where information is coming from.

“People really need to be calm about this and be smart," Burstein said. "And it goes back to be careful, very thoughtful of where you get your information.“

WBFO spoke with Burstein and a local infectious disease expert for this story. If you know that you may have been exposed to or are experiencing symptoms of monkeypox, it's important to reach out to a health provider for testing, treatments, and vaccines. If you are sick, stay home until you receive medical attention.

Erie County held first-dose vaccine clinics for those at the highest risk of monkeypox this week. Vaccines are still limited. If you would like more information about vaccines or resources in Western New York, you can text the New York State hotline, at 81336. Text “MONKEYPOX” for English or “MONKEYPOXESP” for Spanish. You'll be able to provide a zip code to receive updates on local resources. Erie County also has information on monkeypox, which you can read by clicking here.

Do you have monkeypox anxiety?

If you’re on social media at all, your feeds are probably flooded with a lot of content about monkeypox, a rare disease that is caused by a virus in the same family as smallpox.

It’s typically less severe than smallpox, and rarely fatal, but that doesn’t mean it’s pleasant. It’s hard to go online and not see photos of the lesions it causes or claims about how it spreads. It is not nearly as infectious as COVID-19, but like COVID, disinformation about the disease is spreading fast.

“We're all still recovering from the COVID pandemic," said Dr. Thomas Russo, the chief of infectious disease for the University at Buffalo's Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.

“Word of another infectious disease emerging is creating significant anxiety. That here we go all over again, I think it's important for people to note that monkeypox is far less infectious and transmissible as COVID. And although this is an infection that we need to surveil carefully, and warrants, you know, our ability to minimize the number of cases moving forward is not the same as COVID," Russo said.

Disinformation: Monkeypox is not an STD

There’s been a lot of confusion and disinformation online over how monkeypox spreads.

Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia made the news recently for tweeting “If Monkeypox is a sexually transmitted disease, why are kids getting it?” Similar messages on social media have spread a lot of disinformation and stigma of a disease that is hitting the LGBTQ community particularly hard.

“It is not a sexually transmitted infection," Burstein said. “However, it is a sexually associated infection. So we're seeing transmission through close skin-to-skin contact."

“Monkeypox does not know any gender boundaries, anyone could potentially get infected, regardless of their sexual orientation," Russo said. "So although at this time, the social network that's been largely affected, which is men who have sex with men, is where we're seeing the largest number of cases, it could break out of that social network. So potentially anyone is at risk if they're exposed to someone that is infectious.”

How does it spread?

Monkeypox frequently spreads through intimate contact because it can spread through any direct contact with the body or respiratory secretions of an infected person.

It’s also possible to get monkeypox if you touch sheets or clothing used by an infected person, or by being scratched, bitten, or eating the meat of an infected animal. Some animals, including pets like chinchillas, can even get monkeypox.

What symptoms should I look out for?

Anytime you’re ill, you’re better off isolating yourself until you know what it is. While rashes that look like lesions, pimples, or blisters is a significant symptom of monkeypox, other symptoms, including sore throat, swollen lymph nodes, fever, headache and chills are similar to other viral illnesses.

“Similar to COVID. If anyone is feeling unwell and feels that they may have monkeypox or really any infectious diseases, your best course of action is not to interact with other individuals, quarantine yourself and reach out to a health care provider,” Russo said.

Emyle Watkins is an investigative journalist covering disability for WBFO.