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Monkey Pox: Concerns for the Licensed Massage Therapist

The pandemic we are still enduring, (I hate to remind us, but we are still looking at a steady ~4-500 Covid deaths/day in the US (New York Times/Google Coronavirus Tracker)), has shown us time and again the incredible devastation that can be done by misinformation.

I’ve already seen some headlines that are misinforming the public that this is “sexually transmitted”, which is ONE way it is tranmissible, there are also other important modes of transmission we need to be aware of.

If we fail here, we will see greater spreads of the disease within the poorly informed populous as well as the dangerous spread of sexual stigmatization. The brunt of this stigmatization will fall on the LGBTQ+ community, as is already happening in the media reporting of this issue.

According to our Pathology goddess, Ruth Werner, in an article for ABMP,

“Human-to-human spread occurs through direct, often intimate or sexual, contact with a symptomatic person, or prolonged indirect contact with their bedding, clothing, or other intimate items.

Researchers believe it may also be spread through respiratory droplets, as well as by way of contact with infected skin lesions. It is communicable from the onset of symptoms through when the skin lesions are fully healed.”

Presenting sexual transmission as if it were the only mode of transmission also puts our profession at risk. We must not neglect that any accompanying stigmatization will also have an effect on our industry, as we are all aware of the existing stigmas surrounding our profession.

Additionally, when framed as a sexually transmitted disease, we as therapists seem hasty to dismiss the risk of Monkey Pox within our treatment rooms.

At minimum we should be asking our clients if they have:

  1. Had contact with someone who has or is suspected of having Monkey Pox

  2. Have a fever, malaise, or swollen lymph nodes

  3. Any rashes, lesions, sores, bumps or pustules.

Even then, we know that clients can “forget” to mention things during the intake process. Make sure you are paying attention to the condition of the skin you are working on.

In general, the risk of exposure is low if the person is asymptomatic.

According to Ruth,

“The main issue to keep in mind is that while the practice of massage therapy involves touch and close contact, this infection does not appear to be communicable in asymptomatic people. If our clients have fever, malaise, and swollen lymph nodes, they need to delay their massage—that is true in all cases, not just for monkeypox. If our clients have undiagnosed blisters, pustules, or scabs that started as blisters, they should investigate this with their primary health-care provider before receiving massage. Again, this is true for all circumstances, not just monkeypox.

In short, if we follow basic precautions about working with people who don’t have signs of communicable diseases, clients with communicable monkeypox will most likely not find their way to our table. How long after an infection should we wait to offer massage? The Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC) says after the rash has fully healed (that is, the blisters have scabbed, and the scabs have fallen off), the person is no longer contagious. That may take several weeks, but it is at least a clear guideline.”

A precaution you should also be aware of is wearing gloves and other PPE as necessary when removing and laundering used linens.

Let’s take care of ourselves, our clients, and each other.

Eli S.

-Instructor of Swedish Massage at the Pittsburgh School of Massage Therapy

Ruth’s full article about Monkey Pox is available here:

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