Young people use TikTok to combat rapidly emerging stereotypes about monkeypox, show how their symptoms look, and encourage others to pay attention and get vaccinated.
“Hey guys, this is what monkeypox looks like,” says TikTok user @tonanty in a video(Opens in a new window) that has been viewed over 25 million times. “I’m basically covered from head to toe, and it’s not fun.” Get the vaccine and stay safe; this is extremely painful.”
Tonanty has posted 16 videos chronicling his journey from peak symptoms to healing (Opens in a new window), as well as theories on how he became infected with the virus (Opens in a new window). He is one of a group of TikTok users fighting back against rapidly emerging disease stereotypes.
“So I was debating doing a TikTok on this because I wasn’t sure if I should be telling the whole world, but as much as I’m on TikTok, I haven’t found anyone out here like, ‘So this is what it is,'” user @make that make sense says in a video(Opens in a new window) viewed 2.5 million times. He then displays a rash that has kept him out of work for two weeks.
“I believe people have it but are afraid to admit it because it is embarrassing. Even telling my job is an embarrassment, so please contact me if you have any questions. It’s spreading, so be cautious.”
Monkeypox arrives just as everyone is adjusting to a world where COVID is the “new normal” (an increasingly meaningless phrase). Monkeypox, like COVID, is a virus, but it behaves differently, causing a rash of painful lesions and other symptoms such as fever, headache, muscle aches, and sore throat, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) (Opens in a new window).
The World Health Organization has declared Monkeypox a global health emergency (WHO) (Opens in a new window). The United States has just over 6,300 confirmed cases as of this writing (Opens in a new window). New York, California, and Illinois have all declared states of emergency; they currently have the highest case counts in the country, accounting for 26%, 13%, and 8% of total cases, respectively.
Who’s at Risk for Monkeypox?
Early monkeypox reports emphasized the spread of the virus through sexual activity within the same community, echoing the HIV/AIDS epidemic of the 1980s, which disproportionately affected gay men(Opens in a new window). According to the WHO, “some cases have been identified through sexual health clinics in communities of gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men.”
Cases are becoming more common among women, straight men, and people who have not reported recent physical intimacy. “It is important to note that the risk of monkeypox applies not only to men who have sex with other men. Anyone who comes into contact with an infectious person is at risk. However, because the virus has been identified in these communities, learning about monkeypox will aid in ensuring that as few people as possible are affected and that the outbreak can be contained “according to the WHO website
People on TikTok are battling stereotypes one video at a time. The user @imadeyouscream claims to be the first woman in Georgia to have been diagnosed with monkeypox. “A lot of men are being targeted for this virus, and I’m here to tell you again that is not the only way you can contract it,” she says in a video(Opens in a new window) with 489,000 likes and 103,000 shares. She believes she became infected after touching surfaces and cash at the gas station where she works.
After seeing other videos targeting gay men, user @prettywithlee felt compelled to post (Opens in a new window) about monkeypox on TikTok. “There’s this rumor going around that it’s only for gay people, which is a big lie,” she tells PCMag. “That is a terrible thing to say simply because of the increase in the LGBTQ community. Anyone can get it because it is easily spread by touching or sharing bed sheets.”
Focus on Education, Treatment, and Prevention
Doctors have taken to TikTok to combat virus misinformation, explaining how the virus works and how people can protect themselves.
“How dangerous is monkeypox, and is it deadly?” asks @drjencaudle in a video(Opens in a new window). She cites CDC guidelines to explain that people who contract the virus are unlikely to become seriously ill or die, despite the fact that the rash is painful and can cause scarring.
There are currently two monkeypox vaccines available, JYNNEOS and ACAM2000. According to the CDC, they, like the Pfizer and Moderna COVID vaccines, require two doses taken weeks apart (Opens in a new window). Vaccine availability varies by state, with limited quantities reserved for those at high risk. The Biden administration is working to improve access and overall supply.
“I want to be very clear, the guidelines at this time do not indicate vaccinations for the general population,” says nurse practitioner @j.davila np(Opens in a new window). “At the moment, the guidelines only recommend vaccinations for patients who are at high risk.”
Is Monkeypox Considered a Pandemic?
The World Health Organization has declared monkeypox a global health emergency (Opens in a new window), but I has not yet classified it as a pandemic. The virus is currently mutating more slowly and exhibiting milder symptoms than COVID-19, according to The New York Times (Opens in a new window).
“It’s not technically a pandemic yet,” says E Wesley Ely, MD (@wesleymd(Opens in a new window) on TikTok), an ICU physician at Vanderbilt University who runs a COVID Research Center (Opens in a new window).
“It is already being referred to as an emerging, global, and concerning infectious disease. A pandemic occurs when an epidemic has sustained numbers in multiple countries. We don’t have consistent numbers yet, so people aren’t calling it a pandemic just yet “he claims
Nonetheless, elected officials are concerned about the disease. President Biden appointed FEMA’s Robert Fenton as the White House National Monkeypox Response Coordinator on August 2.
Testing is an important strategy for virus containment. “Without testing, you’re flying blind,” said Dr. William Morice, chair of the American Clinical Laboratory Association’s board of directors and president of Mayo’s lab, in an interview with CNN (Opens in a new window). “The main concern is that you won’t be able to identify cases, and [monkeypox] could become an endemic disease. That is something we must seriously consider.”
A Warning About Social Media and Misinformation
On social media, inaccurate information spreads like wildfire. Prior to the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, Facebook posts falsely claiming the vaccines contained trackable microchips fueled a firestorm of misinformation and fear about virus prevention. Monkeypox provides an opportunity to do things differently.
Before acting on any social media posts, even those claiming to feature “doctors” in scrubs, check the information with reputable sources, such as the CDC website (Opens in a new window). If you have symptoms or were in the presence of someone who did, see a doctor for testing and vaccine information.