Jul 25, 2022 - Economy

What communicators can learn from COVID on monkeypox messaging

A computer keyboard and mouse attached to a medical case.

Illustration: Megan Robinson/Axios

Prior to monkeypox, COVID-19 was the last global health emergency flagged by the World Health Organization.

Why it matters: This is the first time communicators can put lessons learned from the COVID pandemic into action by being informative, not alarmist.

What they’re saying: Dr. Jay Winsten, director of strategic media initiatives at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health believes that communicators should be more involved in discussions about major public health recommendations.

  • The way we present information and guidance around these viruses can both manage the risk and spread of misinformation.

Here are three factors to consider:

  1. Know your audience. Assume they don’t have a medical background and explain the virus, guidance and response in simple terms.
  2. Be candid. Make it clear that the situation is evolving and the guidance could change. If your messaging does change, be transparent and explain why.
  3. Seek feedback. The key word here is “seek.” Be proactive about it and create a channel for bottom-up responses. This feedback could help you quickly identify and address any misunderstandings.

State of play: There are more than 3,000 cases of monkeypox in the U.S., including two children. The virus, which can be transmitted by droplets and by close contact with infected skin lesions or contaminated materials, usually incubates in people for 6 to 13 days before symptoms appear, Axios reports.

  • Transmission can come from animals or human-to-human but "it is generally documented among very close contacts. So family members, people taking care of ill patients. Or health care providers," Andrea McCollum, the poxvirus epidemiology team lead at the CDC, told STAT News.
  • Children are at higher risk, and monkeypox can cause pregnancy complications or stillbirth, per the WHO.

💭 Our thought bubble: It’s important to be candid, but also intentional with our words. Concentrating too much on those currently most at risk is stigmatizing and can lead to dangerous misinformation about who is and is not vulnerable.

Go Deeper: What we know about the monkeypox outbreak.

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