Gay community braces for monkeypox as outbreak spreads across US | Monkeypox

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Earlier in the Covid-19 pandemic, members of the gay and bisexual men’s social group Prime Timers St Louis, were “very, very worried” about Covid-19 due to underlying health conditions, said Bob Brinkman, 69, chairman of the group. This includes HIV, among other issues that have compromised their immune system.

But all 141 band members were vaccinated against Covid, he said, and in June Prime Timers held its monthly potluck for the first time in more than two years.

Today, the gay community in St. Louis and elsewhere in the United States must worry about another health threat: monkeypox, a viral disease that has primarily affected men who have sex with men. humans – but can infect anyone – and prompted New York, California and Illinois to declare a public health emergency.

Other cities and states across the United States are also bracing and preparing for its impact, both within the LGBTQ community and more broadly. On Thursday, the White House declared monkeypox a national public health emergency, triggering more resources, particularly around vaccines.

“It will have an ongoing impact on my intimate side of life,” said Brinkman, who lives in a suburb of St Louis and is retired from working in information technology. “I don’t have anyone in my life right now, and trying to meet someone on that level is a huge concern, and I think a lot of people are thinking about that as well.”

But while infectious disease experts are urging men who have sex with men in cities, like St Louis, not yet hard hit by monkeypox, to educate themselves about the disease, they are also warning against the panic, an understandable reaction for a population torn apart by the AIDS epidemic.

“I think it would be safe to say that this could be stressful for individuals, on top of two and a half years of incredible stress,” said Dr. Preeti Malani, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Michigan. “People should be worried, but not so worried that they can’t move on with their lives.”

The virus can cause fever, headaches and a painful rash, among other symptoms, but it is rarely fatal. It is spread mainly through prolonged skin-to-skin contact, such as during sexual intercourse, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The United States had recorded more than 6,300 cases of monkeypox as of Wednesday, nearly half of which occurred in New York, California and Illinois, according the CDC.

But most states have reported fewer than 100 cases. Missouri reported 10.

Cities like St. Louis “should be prepared to see infections transmitted between men who have sex with men and then eventually spread to other social networks as well,” said Jay Varma, director of the Cornell Center for Pandemic Prevention. and Response. “It’s very difficult to say whether or not these will be large outbreaks or whether it will be just a few cases.”

That will depend on the availability of vaccines and the effectiveness of testing and contact tracing efforts, Varma said. There are only enough vaccines in the United States to cover about a third of the roughly 1.6 million gay and bisexual men authorities consider most at risk, and the shortage could last for months, according to the washington post reported.

To promote vaccination and information about the virus, Malani said, public health agencies should work with trusted community organizations such as the University of Michigan Spectrum Center, which in 1971 became the first office for gay students at an American university. The group is now working with the school’s public health department and the county health agency and preparing messages for the return of students later this month, Malani said.

“It’s an example of reaching out to organizations, grassroots, community centers, individuals that have clout and are visible and are good partners,” Malani said. Public health officials should also use “non-traditional places” such as bars, restaurants and bathhouses to provide information about the virus.

On Monday afternoon, a steady stream of customers entered Club St Louis, part of a chain of private men’s saunas. On his website home pagethe company offers advice regarding Covid and monkeypox.

“The first step in controlling MONKEYPOX is to find as many cases as possible, learn how the disease is transmitted and what the symptoms are,” the alert reads. “It is important to care for those infected and vaccinate those who are potentially exposed, and to ensure that our at-risk community knows what is happening.”

David Williams, a 49-year-old hairstylist, and a friend from out of town came to the pool.

“Apparently gay men are the only ones having sex in America,” Williams joked of the primary spread of the virus.

Williams, who is HIV-positive but protected from transmitting the virus with medication, had previously received a monkeypox vaccine from an Illinois county health department.

Yet when asked if the threat of monkeypox caused him to change his lifestyle, Williams, who is divorced and single, said “absolutely”.

“No sex,” he said. “Until more people are vaccinated.”

But public health officials’ message to gay people shouldn’t be, “Just don’t have sex,” Varma said.

“Whenever we talk about sex, we as health care providers should always recognize that sex has health benefits and brings joy into people’s lives,” Varma said. . “That said, you also need to be realistic and honest about where the risk is right now. And right now…the highest risk comes from either anonymous sexual partners and/or gender-related events. where people have sex with multiple partners, so it’s wise for men who have sex with men to think about their risk tolerance.”

AJ Pupillo, a 45-year-old St. Louis County resident who acts as a caretaker for his parents, hadn’t yet given much thought to monkeypox. Pupillo, who is HIV-positive but also cannot transmit the virus, said he trusted Vivent Health, an HIV treatment organization with an office in St Louis, to provide information and the care he might need regarding monkeypox.

“I know I’m in good hands,” Pupillo said.

Brinkman, the president of Prime Timers, said the organization would likely continue to come together because monkeypox is much less contagious and spreads differently than Covid.

“It might have some effect,” he said. “But I don’t think it will force us to go back to Zoom.”

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