Monkeypox: Looking at the public’s response


Iowa has reported 23 monkeypox cases as of Sept. 21, with 12 cases originating in Central Iowa.

Monkeypox was categorized as a public health emergency by the World Health Organization on July 23. Following this announcement, health officials across the country have responded with action plans and vaccination procedures, but the public response to monkeypox is still to be determined.

“I’m more focused on classes right now,” David Wedemeyer, a junior studying agronomy, said. “It’s definitely a problem, but it’s an up-and-coming problem.”

Wedemeyer has seen basic information on monkeypox through social media but has not followed the topic closely.

“If anybody’s like me, we don’t really listen to the news too much because we’ve got other stuff to worry about,” Wedemeyer said.

COVID-19, a previous public health emergency, interrupted millions of lives in 2020 when it escalated into a pandemic that shut down schools, businesses and stores across the globe, but monkeypox has not impacted daily life on the same scale.

“I haven’t met anybody that’s had [monkeypox],” Neko Nelson, a junior studying animal ecology, said. “So, as of right now I’m not super concerned because I haven’t personally been affected by it that much.”

The state of Iowa has 23 confirmed monkeypox cases as of Sept. 21, with 12 originating in Central Iowa, according to the Iowa Department of Public Health website. Story County has not reported any cases.

Treatment is not available, but monkeypox vaccines are now available for certain individuals.

“I think it’s good to stay low on your level of concern until there’s a lot of good resources out there to educate yourself,” Jennifer Holliday, a sophomore studying agricultural studies, said. “I don’t like to go above and beyond to get stressed about things until I have the right resources to educate myself.”

The first human case of monkeypox was recorded in 1970, according to the CDC website. It is historically found in central and western African countries, and prior to the 2022 outbreak, almost all monkeypox cases in people were linked to international travel.

“I think [the public health emergency] might be a little bit of an overreaction because it doesn’t seem like [officials] know a whole lot about monkeypox,” Nelson said. “But I guess the same thing happened with COVID where they didn’t know a lot and then it ended up shutting down lots of cities…so it’s an overreaction but also being safe.”

The spread of monkeypox requires skin-to-skin contact with a person who has a rash or unhealed scabs from the disease or contact with items an infected person has touched, such as clothing.

Anyone can contract monkeypox, but recent data suggest men in the LGBTQ+ community represent the majority of current cases.

“I think what public health is worried about is that the same thing will happen with monkeypox that happened with HIV,” said Dr. John Paschen, a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics and chairman of the Story County Board of Health. “When HIV first came out, everyone thought it was just a gay disease, so they didn’t do anything about it.”

Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is a disease that first appeared in the U.S. in the 1980s. The disease initially appeared in gay and bisexual men but quickly spread into the general population. The U.S. reported 30,635 new HIV cases in 2020, according to the CDC website.

“My feelings are that public health really is afraid that this has to be taken very seriously at this time so that this disease does not mutate into something that is very, very serious,” Paschen said.

The U.S. has reported one monkeypox-related death, according to the CDC website, and the western and central African mortality rate is approximately 10%, according to Paschen.

Additional information about monkeypox can be found on the Thielen Student Health Center website and the CDC website.