Around 20% of Americans say they are concerned about contracting monkeypox, but many still don't have basic knowledge of the disease, according to a new survey from the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg Public Policy Center (APPC).
What Americans currently believe about monkeypox
For the survey, SSRS, on the behalf of APPC, collected responses from a nationally representative sample of 1,580 U.S. adults between July 12 and July 18. The survey focused on respondents' knowledge of monkeypox and potential concerns about the current outbreak.
Overall, 80% of respondents said they had seen, read, or heard something about monkeypox over the past month. In addition, 19% of respondents said they were "somewhat" or "very" worried about getting monkeypox in the next three months, compared with 30% who said they were "somewhat" or "very" worried about getting Covid-19.
However, many respondents lacked sufficient knowledge about the disease and how to protect themselves from it.
Although most respondents (69%) knew that monkeypox typically spreads through close contact with someone who is infected, a little over a quarter (26%) said they were not sure if this information was true or false.
In addition, two-thirds of respondents said they were not sure whether a monkeypox vaccine exists or did not believe it exists at all. In comparison, only 34% correctly knew that a vaccine for monkeypox exists.
Many respondents were also unsure about how monkeypox transmissibility compares with Covid-19. For example, 14% said monkeypox is just as contagious as the coronavirus, while 48% said they were unsure whether it was more or less contagious.
According to Anne Rimoin, an infectious disease expert, monkeypox is "not as highly transmissible as something like smallpox, measles, or certainly not Covid."
In addition, 28% of respondents said they were unsure whether the Covid-19 vaccine increases the risk of getting monkeypox, and 63% said they were not sure if having had Covid-19 would increase the risk of getting monkeypox. According APPC, there is currently no evidence to suggest that either of these beliefs is true.
When identifying who is at an increased risk of contracting monkeypox, many respondents were incorrect.
For example, CDC says that "laboratory workers who handle culture or animals with orthopoxviruses" are among those who are at higher risk and might consider getting vaccinated. However, only 9% of respondents correctly identified this information as being true. A third (34%) said the information was false, while 57% said they were not sure.
In addition, many respondents were unaware that a majority of monkeypox cases during this current outbreak have occurred in men who have sex with men, with two-thirds either saying that the information was false or that they were not sure about it.
Aside from general monkeypox information, the survey also asked respondents about common monkeypox myths and conspiracy theories. Although most respondents did not believe misinformation about monkeypox to be true, some did or were at least unsure about its veracity.
For example, over half of respondents correctly said the idea that monkeypox is bioengineered is "probably" or "definitely" false, but 12% said it was "probably" or "definitely" true, and 34% said they were not sure. And when asked if monkeypox was caused by exposure to 5G signals, 1% said this was "probably true," and 21% said they were not sure.
Around half of participants were asked if monkeypox was intentionally released, and 14% of this group said this was "probably" or "definitely" true, and 30% said they were not sure. Similarly, 10% said they believed monkeypox was "probably" or "definitely" released to deflect attention from the Biden administration, and 19% said they were not sure.
According to APPC director Kathleen Hall Jamieson, "[i]t's important that the public calibrate its concerns to the reality of the risk of Covid-19 and monkeypox and act appropriately."
"The time to reduce susceptibility to misinformation about monkeypox is now," Jamieson said. "It is critically important that public health professionals offer anxious individuals accurate information about the ways in which this virus is transmitted and infection prevented. Vaccinating those who are at highest risk should be a national priority." (APPC survey, 7/29; Bettelheim, Axios, 7/29)