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High-risk relationships may also mean a higher risk of monkeypox for some teens

Photo by Matilda Wormwood

As high schools across Texas start their school year, some teens may be at higher risk of contracting monkeypox than others.

School, itself, is a low-risk environment for the spread of monkeypox, according to Dr. Tess Barton, an Associate Professor of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at UT Health San Antonio. She said the monkeypox virus is most commonly spread by skin-to-skin contact with monkeypox lesions, and right now those who are at highest risk are men who have intimate relationships with other men. But some high schoolers are sexually active, and some are involved in high-risk relationships. If they are exposed to monkeypox, Barton said, they might not want their parents to know.

“Young people who may be engaging in sexual contact may not be telling their families that they're doing that," Barton said, "And if they are engaging in high risk contacts, they could contract monkeypox.”

Barton fears that a teens reluctance to tell their parents may lead to them not getting the medical care they need, so she wants them to know that if they have symptoms, they can get tested and treated without telling their parents.

“In Texas, a minor can seek care for treatment of a sexually transmitted infection without parental consent, if needed. So if there is a high-risk adolescent who suspects they may have monkeypox," Barton said, "Please seek care.”

Monkeypox is not a sexually transmitted infection, but the lesions are similar to those associated with herpes or syphilis. Those sexually transmitted infections are what doctors call differential diagnoses for monkeypox, Barton said.

“So if a person seeks care for potentially herpes or syphilis and is found to have monkeypox, then then that would be an avenue for getting (treatment).”

Barton added that some athletes might also be at higher risk, particularly in sports with a lot of skin-to-skin contact, like wrestling and basketball. Shared athletic equipment and towels that have come into contact with monkeypox skin lesions could also be a source of infection.

Still, monkeypox risk for all teenagers is low.

Texas Public Radio is supported by contributors to the Bioscience and Medicine News Desk including UT Health San Antonio and Dr. Johnny and Joni Reyna, supporting prostate cancer research and early detection to save lives.