While monkeypox isn’t as fatal as COVID-19, it continues to spread with more than 26,000 cases being reported in over 80 countries. Recently, the World Health Organization even declared monkeypox a global health emergency.

Direct skin contact appears to be the most common way of contracting monkeypox, as can secondhand exposure through the shared use of clothing, towels or bedding.

There has also been some confusion around whether monkeypox is a sexually transmitted disease mostly due to the overwhelming coverage surrounding the virus spreading through sex between men. While a handful of cases have been reported in communities where men have sex with men, many have raised concerns around the stigmatizing messaging that echos that of HIV/AIDS coverage in the 1980s. Additionally, some messaging has been called out for stigmatizing people in Africa where the virus is endemic and was first identified.  

The parallels between the reporting of the monkeypox virus and the AIDS epidemic are apparent. The fear is that the same stigmatization of specific communities — as well as a gross deficiency in virus mitigation — could harmfully reoccur.

“We don’t want to pretend that the cases described in Europe have not primarily been in men who have sex with men,” said Ken Mayer, medical research director of Fenway Health, according to PBS News Hour. Fenway Health is an LGBTQ-focused clinic in Boston. “But we want to do it in a way that people feel educated or engaged but not stigmatized in a way that people would delay seeking care or ignore symptoms.”

Here’s how harmful reporting of viruses can impact communities and limit access to care.