RITM conducts 1st What the FAQs online forum on sex and monkeypox

Dr. Rossana Ditangco (left) and Dr. Arthur Dessi Roman (right) addressing questions from the public during the open forum of the webinar.

To address close physical contact, such as those involved in sexual activities, as a risk factor in the transmission of the global problem of monkeypox, the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) through its Medical Department conducted the What the FAQs?: Sex and Monkeypox online public forum via Zoom and the RITM Facebook page on August 3, 2022.

Featured in the online forum was infectious disease expert and RITM Medical Specialist, Dr. Arthur Dessi Roman. Meanwhile, RITM AIDS Research Group (ARG) Head and Medical Department Officer-in-Charge Dr. Rossana Ditangco served as moderator.

Last July 23, 2022, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared monkeypox as a “public health emergency of international concern”. Monkeypox has been reported in at least 50 member states of the WHO, which now includes the Philippines, as the Department of Health (DOH) confirmed the first case of monkeypox in the country on July 29, 2022.

Data from other countries show that the group greatly affected by monkeypox include gays, bisexuals, and men having sex with men (MSM).

“In (monkeypox) cases where sex have been reported, 99% of this were males. Among cases with reported sexual transmission, 98% identified as gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men have reported recent sex with one or multiple partners,” said Dr. Ditangco in her opening remarks.

Dr. Roman discussed that monkeypox transmission is via close physical contact. This includes unprotected contact with bodily fluids, skin lesions, respiratory droplets, animal bites, or through contaminated items of a monkeypox patient. He also mentioned that prolonged physical close contact is required for human-to-human transmission.

“We are aware that close contact is involved in sexual activities with or without genital penetration. Skin-to-skin contact can occur and monkeypox transmission can occur during sex,” explained Dr. Roman.

Dr. Roman highlighted that the community, especially the key affected group, should be aware, responsible, and creative in preventing the monkeypox virus from infecting themselves and others. Infection prevention and control measures should include standard, contact, and droplet precautions.

Dr. Roman also echoed the recommendations of WHO for the MSM community. These include reducing the number of sexual partners, reconsidering sex with new partners, and maintaining contact details with sex partners to enable follow up in case contact tracing will be required in the future.  

“It’s very important na madali nating ma-contact ‘yung mga pasyente [to] warn them and also advise them on the proper isolation precautions,” stressed Dr. Roman.

(It’s very important that we easily contact the patients [to] warn them and also advise them on the proper isolation precautions.)

Aside from the WHO recommendations, participants also learned tips on how they can lower their risk of acquiring monkeypox infection during sex, and the necessary steps to follow should they experience an unexplained rash or other symptoms.

If you don’t have a (private healthcare) provider, visit a public health facility near you. There are social hygiene clinics that you can contact to help you and link you to tertiary hospitals, dermatologists, and even infectious disease doctors,” said Dr. Roman, encouraging participants to have themselves assessed by experts should they experience symptoms.

Dr. Roman suggested other sexual activities which do not involve physical contact to reduce the risk of spreading the virus. He reminded everyone to continue promoting and practicing minimum public health standards and basic infection prevention and control measures.

Monkeypox is a reemerging viral infection which presents itself with skin lesions that belong to the same stage of development. The classic rash is described as pimple-like with a dimple at the center (umbilicated pustule). Lymphadenopathy, or the swelling of the lymph nodes is the key differentiating feature of monkeypox from other similar infections such as chickenpox.

Individuals who are experiencing symptoms of monkeypox should consult a healthcare provider right away for prompt and correct diagnosis, as well as receive proper advice on infection prevention measures.

Watch the Sex and Monkeypox online forum here.

by Anel Azel Dimaano