Doctors are calling for calm as the right-wing lies about children and monkeypox

As American monkeypox continues to spread out of control, public health officials worry that antiquated science and bad faith are joining forces to scare parents that the outbreak is dangerous to their children.

Epidemiologists, infectious disease specialists, and public health authorities generally agree that the current outbreak poses little risk to children. But those safeguards are at risk of disappearing, with the right-wing tying the virus to unwarranted panic about LGBT people “parenting” children, and some media and internet influencers suggesting that monkeypox could flourish in school settings.

“Several infected children were in close contact with households,” emphasized the doctor. David Friedman, professor emeritus of infectious diseases at the University of Alabama and an expert on tropical diseases. “I just don’t think it’s a big risk to go to school in silence unless you completely ignore instructions.”

The conflict between deliberate disinformation and targeted disinformation has intensified in recent weeks as leading right-wing conservative figures and conspiracy theorists have invoked several pediatric cases as evidence of mass sexual abuse of gay children.

“Who is molesting children in DC?” Conspiracy activist and failed congressional candidate Laura Loomer posted on Telegram last week, linking to an article confirming a baby in the nation’s capital had monkeypox.

“Will any law enforcement agency investigate how those two children contracted monkeypox?” Or just…Michael Knowles, a columnist for The Daily Wire, accused teachers of “judging” children if they don’t disclose a child’s sexual orientation to the child’s family. tweeted In response to another pair of children infected.

The allegations — part troll, part decades-long smear campaign against LGBT people — are bolstered by other well-meaning concerns raised by parents and health activists who see monkeypox as a potential successor to COVID-19. pandemic.

Activists and educators like genetics-slash-podcaster Spencer Wells predict “it’s not going to be a fun school year” because of the threat of pediatric monkeypox, citing a long-standing medical belief that children — who are at risk of complications from monkeypox — can contract the virus, especially in school settings. , spread easily. But the scientific understanding of monkeypox’s transmissibility, the ways it spreads to specific populations and the danger it poses has changed in recent years, experts told the Daily Beast, and children may not be as at risk as previously thought.

“There have been one or two cases in European countries that have reported pediatric cases, so the virus has not spread among children,” said Dr. Christina Bryant, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at the University of Louisville School of Medicine. “I don’t think there’s any need to worry about this virus spreading in schools or kindergartens.”

Part of the misunderstanding, said Dr. Abaar Karan, an infectious disease researcher at Stanford University, based his interpretation on nearly half a century of outdated data. Karan said the current outbreak has forced public health officials to draw on decades of knowledge about the virus, which until now had been largely confined to children.

“Children are in close contact – they touch a lot of surfaces, they don’t wash and sanitize their hands, they are exposed to fomites a lot, and adults are more careful about what they touch and what they touch. put it in their mouth, what they have on their hands, how often they wash their hands, things like that,” Karan said, explaining that behind a five-year study in the 1980s, nine out of ten cases of the virus occurred in children. fifteen years old.

However, infectious disease experts told The Daily Beast a recent re-evaluation of these and similar surveys suggests that these pediatric cases do not actually demonstrate a unique risk of monkeypox for children.

“It is true that in countries where the virus is endemic, it has occurred in young children, and we know that children under the age of eight are at high risk of severe disease. But even in endemic countries, the epidemiology of monkeypox is changing,” Bryant said, adding that the average age of people with monkeypox has gradually increased in recent decades. “In the seventies, the average age was four or five years old — more recently it was late teens and young adults.”

Many epidemiologists now conclude that the reason monkeypox only affected children was the result of another global health emergency: smallpox. At the time monkeypox was discovered, the world was completing a global campaign to eradicate smallpox, in which nearly everyone on the planet had been vaccinated against the deadly disease. Both smallpox and monkeypox are orthopoxviruses, so smallpox vaccines also prevent monkeypox, so a two-dose Ginneos vaccine is used to vaccinate high-risk individuals against the other.

“This may be another reason why demographics are skewed toward younger people, even in other epidemics,” Karan said. “Basically, as soon as we stopped smallpox vaccination, there was a vulnerable population, so it was only a matter of time before this happened.”

Experts say this apparent shift in the epidemiology of monkeypox means that public anxiety — whether propagated by anti-gay conspiracy theorists or by concerned parents who misread the current science on the disease — may be too high for community outbreaks in daycare centers or kindergartens.

“There’s something about this epidemic that we still don’t fully understand or understand,” Karan said, noting that most orthopoxviruses, a family of viruses that includes smallpox and monkeypox, spread more easily among children than adults. does not show the same quality.

“Orthopox viruses don’t mutate that quickly, and some studies have shown that some of the strains around have mutated much more than expected,” Karan said. “I think in terms of epidemiology and infectious diseases, we’re still learning quite a bit about what’s going on.”

Infectious disease experts know better than to risk making authoritative declarations about unprecedented viral outbreaks and are waiting for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to provide science-based guidance on how to handle cases in children. But even without such guidelines, Bryant said parents and educators may be better equipped than most to spot early cases because of the similarities between monkeypox and other common childhood illnesses.

“Kids get more contagious rashes than monkeypox, so schools and daycares have protocols in place to keep sick kids home and away from other kids,” Bryant said. “Those protocols work really well.”

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