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The Margin: Monkeys aren’t giving people monkeypox, WHO says, so don’t attack them

““What people need to know very clearly is the [monkeypox] transmission we are seeing is happening between humans to humans. They should certainly not be attacking any animals.””

That was World Health Organization spokesperson Margaret Harris, during a Geneva press briefing with reporters on Tuesday. She warned that as cases of monkeypox have surged around the world, there have been reports of people hurting monkeys — which officials assume stems from a fear that the animals are responsible for the spread of the virus named after them.

It should be noted that while the monkeypox virus did indeed originate from wild animals like rodents and non-human primates (such as monkeys), and it was first identified in lab monkeys in 1958, most transmission in humans outside Africa actually comes from person-to-person contact — not from animals. 

Yet at least 10 monkeys — a combination of marmosets and capuchins — were rescued showing signs of poisoning or having been harmed last weekend, the Brazilian news outlet G1 reported. The animals were transported to a São Paulo zoo for treatment, and seven have died.

The Environmental Military Police of Brazil believes that the monkeys were hurt by people out of fear of monkeypox. 

“The name chosen for this new disease is very unfortunate,” said Dener Giovanini, the coordinator of Renctas, which is an acronym for the Brazilian National Network to Combat Wildlife Trafficking, while speaking to NBC News. “Many people in Brazil believe that monkeys carry the disease and are persecuting these animals,” he said. “We are very concerned, because this represents a huge threat to wild animals in Brazil, which are already very endangered.” 

Normally, monkeypox is a rare viral disease seen mostly in central and western Africa. But now almost 90 countries have reported more than 31,000 cases of monkeypox since May, leading WHO to recently declare monkeypox a global emergency

Monkeypox is most commonly spread by skin-to-skin or mouth-to-mouth contact with an infected person’s lesions (the pox), although people can also be infected through contact with clothing or sheets contaminated by body fluids carrying the disease. It also can be spread through contact with respiratory droplets, but scientists are still trying to figure out how often that happens. 

Read more: What are the monkeypox symptoms? Who can get a vaccine? What to know about the virus and how it spreads

Outside of Africa, most cases (98%) are being spread by men who have sex with men. The initial outbreaks reported in Europe are believed to have stemmed from sex at two raves in Spain and Belgium. But it should also be noted that anyone, regardless of gender or sexual orientation, can catch the virus if they are in close contact with an infected person or the fabrics that an infected person touched. 

It is also possible for people to get monkeypox from infected animals through a bite or a scratch, or by preparing or eating meat or using products from an infected animal. But the majority of cases in the current global outbreak have been spreading mostly through close, intimate contact, according to the CDC. So there’s no reason to hurt any animals, as the WHO spokesperson said. Instead, here are some steps to prevent getting monkeypox and lower your risk during sex, according to the CDC. This includes washing your hands often, as well as avoiding close, skin-to-skin contact with people who have a rash that looks like monkeypox.

The CDC is recommending vaccination for people who have been exposed to monkeypox and people who are at higher risk of being exposed to monkeypox. But there is a limited supply of the vaccine, so the CDC suggests that people consider temporarily changing some behaviors that may increase their risk of being exposed. 

And you should talk with your healthcare provider if you show any symptoms of monkeypox — including minor flu-like symptoms such as fever, body aches, chills and fatigue, as well as rashes or fluid-filled bumps — even if you don’t think you had contact with someone who has monkeypox.

For anyone seeking answers to some more common questions about monkeypox, including who is eligible for a vaccine and what travel guidelines are in place, check out our explainer on everything you need to know about monkeypox here.

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