The monkeypox outbreak is still focused on the gay community, but it hasn’t been fueled by recent Pride parades, the World Health Organization (WHO) has said. Newsweek.
Monkeypox continues to spread rapidly across the world, with 15,848 confirmed cases as of July 21, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
A WHO spokesperson said Newsweek that in newly affected countries, the virus continues to be concentrated “among gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men who have had recent sexual contact with one or more new partners.”
The spokesperson said there is now more data about the virus and how it is spreading within this community.
The WHO said “it might also be of interest to note” that so far in the outbreak, no cases have been reported in other parts of the LGBTQI+ community, “including, for example, among the lesbian community”.
“It’s interesting given the large number of Pride festivals in recent months that have involved casual people-to-people contact in the context of large groups,” the spokesperson said.
The WHO said “a limited number of cases” have also been recorded in women and children in newly affected countries “although this has not yet led to the epidemic taking hold in new populations. “.
“The data tells us that close and prolonged intimate contact between men, including sexual activity, continues to play an important role in the transmission of monkeypox. We know that some men who have sex with men are connected to sexual networks that span different cities and countries. Symptoms of the current outbreak are often localized to the anal and genital areas, which has not been seen in previous outbreaks,” the spokesperson said. .
“Some emerging data, including from a retrospective review of specimens provided to STI clinics by men who have sex with men who have not been diagnosed with monkeypox, have indicated the presence of the virus in those without obvious symptoms.”
“It is clear that we must continue to monitor the data closely because we know that all diseases can change and evolve sometimes in unpredictable ways,” the spokesperson said.
Monkeypox is spread by direct physical contact. It remains unclear why monkeypox seems densely concentrated within the gay community. However, experts warned against stigmatizing the virus – they also reiterated that it is not exclusive to the gay community and anyone can catch it.
A new study recently highlighted new symptoms seen in monkeypox patients, including unique sores on the genital area. Studies are also underway to determine if the virus can travel through seminal fluids.
“We continue to seek a balance between clear targeting of resources and combating stereotyping, stigmatizing, blaming or shaming people. We all have a role to play in being alert to misinformation and communications fueled by the racism or homophobia – we can do this by only sharing reliable, evidence-based and non-stigmatising information from trusted sources,” the WHO spokesperson said.
Jay Brown, senior vice president of programs, research and training at the nonprofit LGBTQ+ human rights campaign, said Newsweek that more needs to be done for the gay community to prevent the spread of monkeypox.
“At the beginning there was too little knowledge about [monkeypox] even existing, then, too little knowledge that this particularly affected LGBTQ people. And that then creates challenges with prevention and access to treatment,” Brown said.
“Now we are at the stage where I think we have concerns about the excessive linking only with sexual activities, because [the virus] can spread through so many different means of direct skin-to-skin contact. So we don’t want people to think that the only way to get it is through sexual activity and that’s what we’re really concerned about in terms of stigma.”
Brown said the Human Rights Campaign was “pushing for more to be done” in terms of vaccinations and public awareness of the virus within the gay community. There is an effective vaccine against monkeypox, but it remains in extremely limited supply.
“[We are] really make sure there is more access to vaccines and treatment and prevention[…] and understand that our healthcare system is truly inequitable, especially for BIPOC [Black, indigenous, people of color] members of the LGBTQ community. And we need to make sure that outreach efforts really target communities that tend to be disproportionately affected,” Brown said.[…It is] just another signal of how our public health is not a priority here in the United States and it really continues to impact our community in a meaningful way.”