As the monkeypox outbreak in the United States is spreading unchecked, public health authorities worry that outdated science and dishonest scapegoating are converging to make parents worry about the threat the epidemic poses to their children.
Epidemiologists, infectious disease experts and public health authorities are all but unanimous that the current outbreak appears to pose a low risk to children. But those reassurances could be swamped as the far-right associates the virus with unfounded panic about LGBT people “raising” children, and some media and online influencers speculate that monkeypox could flourish in school settings .
“The few children who were infected were close household contacts of the case,” emphasized Dr. David Friedman, professor emeritus of infectious diseases at the University of Alabama and an expert in tropical diseases. “I just think that unless the guidelines are completely ignored, the There is not much risk in entering the school environment silently.”
The entanglement of unintentional misinformation and deliberate disinformation has grown in recent weeks as leading conservative figures and conspiracy theorists on the far right seized on pediatric cases proving gay men were sexually abusing children on a massive scale .
“Who Raped Children in Washington?” Conspiracy Activist and Failed Congressional Candidate Laura Lumer write on the telegram Last week, there was a link to an article that confirmed a case of monkeypox in an infant in the country’s capital.
“Has any law enforcement agency investigated how these two kids got monkeypox? Or is it just, like… no?” The Daily Telegraph’s conservative commentator Michael Knowles accused teachers if By not revealing the child’s sexual orientation to the child’s family, you are “nurturing” the child. tweet in response to another pair of pediatric infections.
The allegations — part troll, part continuation of a decades-long smear campaign against LGBT people — are backed up by other, better-intentioned concerns expressed by parents and health activists who believe the monkeypox outbreak is the result of COVID-19. -19’s potential successor to the pandemic.
Those activists and educators, like geneticist Slash Podcaster Spencer Wells, who predict “it’s not going to be a fun school year” because of the risk of monkeypox in children, capture long-held medical beliefs , that children — who do face a higher risk of complications from monkeypox infection — are more likely to spread the virus, especially in school settings. But experts told the Daily Beast that the scientific understanding of how contagious monkeypox is, how it spreads and the risks to certain populations has changed dramatically in recent years, and children may not be at the risk of infection as previously thought.
“European countries that have reported pediatric cases have already reported one or two cases, so the virus isn’t spreading in children,” said Dr. Christina Bryant, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at the University of Louisville School of Medicine. “I really don’t think we have to. There is concern that the virus could spread in schools or daycares.”
Part of the misunderstanding stems from outdated interpretations of data from nearly half a century ago, said Dr. Abraar Karan, an infectious disease researcher at Stanford University. Callan said the current outbreak has forced public health officials to forget decades of knowledge about the virus, including the prejudice that monkeypox was primarily confined to children.
“Children will be in close contact – they will touch a lot of surfaces, they will not wash and clean their hands, they will be exposed to a lot of pollutants – whereas adults may be more concerned with what they touch, what they touch and put in their mouths , what’s on your hands, how often you wash your hands, that sort of thing,” Karan explained the thinking behind a five-year study in the 1980s that found nine out of ten of the virus occurs in children under fifteen.
But infectious disease experts told the Daily Beast that a recent reassessment of that and similar investigations suggests that these paediatric cases may actually not demonstrate a unique monkeypox risk for children at all.
“It is true that in countries where the virus is endemic, cases are in young children, and we know that children under the age of 8 are at higher risk for severe disease. But even in endemic countries, the epidemiology of monkeypox is changing,” Bryan Te said he noted that the average age of monkeypox patients has slowly risen in recent decades. “Back in the ’70s, the average age was four or five — more recently, late teens and young adults.”
Many epidemiologists are now concluding that the reason monkeypox initially appears to affect only children is another global public health emergency: smallpox. When monkeypox was discovered, the world had just wrapped up a global campaign to eradicate smallpox that had vaccinated nearly everyone on the planet against the deadly disease. Both smallpox and monkeypox are orthopoxviruses, which means that the smallpox vaccine also protects against monkeypox—so two doses of the Jynneos vaccine are used to vaccinate high-risk groups of the latter.
“This could be another reason why the demographics are skewed towards younger people, even in other outbreaks,” Callan said. “Once we stop widespread smallpox vaccination, there’s basically a vulnerable population, so it’s only a matter of time before this happens.”
Experts suggest this apparent shift in monkeypox epidemiology signifies public concern about transmission in childcare or daycare settings — whether by anti-gay conspiracy theorists or anxious parents misreading current information about the disease The science of – may be exaggerated.
“We don’t fully understand or understand this outbreak,” Karan said, noting that while most orthopoxviruses, the family of viruses that include smallpox and monkeypox, are more likely to spread among children than adults, current The outbreak did not exhibit the same characteristics.
“Orthopoxviruses don’t mutate so easily, and some studies have shown that some circulating strains mutate much more than expected,” Callan said. “I think in terms of epidemiology and transmission, we’re still learning what’s going on.”
Infectious disease experts know better than most the risks of making authoritative statements about an unprecedented viral outbreak and are still waiting for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to issue scientific guidance on how to address cases in children. But even without such guidance, Bryant said, because monkeypox is similar to more common childhood illnesses, parents and educators may actually be better equipped than most to identify early cases.
“Kids get a variety of contagious rashes that are more common than monkeypox, so schools and day care centers have protocols in place to keep sick kids at home away from other kids,” Bryant said. “These agreements work well.”