Monkeypox is spreading…
More than 300 confirmed and suspected cases have been detected in about 20 countries so far in this unprecedented outbreak, which first came to light in mid-May. Many of the cases have been diagnosed in men who have sex with men. The largest number in the UK.
The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) reported,
The first case in the current outbreak on 7 May in a man who had recently travelled to Nigeria, where monkeypox is endemic. This was soon followed by two additional cases who share a household and four cases among gay and bisexual men, all of whom appear to have contracted the virus locally. As of 23 May, UKHSA has reported 70 confirmed cases in England and one in Scotland.
A WHO update on May 21 listed
92 confirmed and 28 suspected cases. After the UK, the most cases have been reported in Spain and Portugal, with smaller numbers in several other European countries, Canada, the United States and Australia. An informal tally by Global.health, compiled from various sources, listed more than 300 confirmed or suspected cases worldwide as of May 25.
Several cases are reportedly linked to a sauna in Spain and a fetish festival in Belgium. Many of the men reported recent international travel.
Government officials are trying hard not to single out a group that endured terrible stigma at the height of AIDS crisis. Matthew Kavanagh, the deputy executive director of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS said,
Experience shows that stigmatizing rhetoric can quickly disable evidence-based response by stoking cycles of fear, driving people away from health services, impeding efforts to identify cases, and encouraging ineffective, punitive measures.”
Jim Downs write in The Atlantic,
…as a gay man who studies the history of infectious disease, I worry that public-health leaders are not doing enough to directly alert men who have sex with men about monkeypox. Gay men are not the only people at risk, but they do need to know that, right now, the condition appears to be spreading most actively within their community. In recent days, CDC officials have been acknowledging this forthrightly.
Director Rochelle Walensky noted Thursday that, of the nine monkeypox cases identified in the United States as of midweek, most were among men who have sex with men.
Yet many other well-intentioned officials appear fearful of saying something homophobic, and news outlets have published articles emphasizing that monkeypox is “not a gay disease.” Their caution is warranted, but health agencies are putting gay men at risk unless they prioritize them for interventions such as public-awareness campaigns, vaccines, and tests.
Monkeypox, which is related to smallpox and causes symptoms that include a rash, had not previously been viewed as a sexually transmitted infection, but many people who have contracted the disease recently have exhibited symptoms, such as lesions around the genitals or the anus, consistent with sexual transmission. Public-health officials need to work with gay-community health centers and other LGBTQ organizations to deliver information about monkeypox symptoms to doctors and their patients.
Downs worries, as do others, that officials today might be playing down the role of sexual transmission in recent monkeypox cases.