As predicted, more cases of monkeypox have been confirmed. Equally unsurprisingly, misinformation along with homophobic and racist rhetoric about the virus if rife too.
Recap: Monkeypox is not a sexually transmitted infection, but is sometimes passed on through very close contact, therefore transmission can occur during sex. Anyone can contract or pass on the virus, regardless of sexual orientation or gender. Monkeypox, officials say, poses low risk if contracted. Find our more here.
The United Nations’ Aids agency (UNAIDS) has condemned some reporting of the monkeypox virus for being racist and homophobic, warning of adding fuel to unnecessary stigma which undermines the response to a still relatively very small outbreak.
The UN has called for ‘more sensitive’ news reports, in place of coverage that enables “homophobic” and “racist” stereotypes over the recent outbreak.
UNAIDS previously revealed that “a significant proportion” of the small number of confirmed monkeypox cases have been identified among gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men.
At least 85 confirmed cases have been identified in eight EU countries, including Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, and Sweden, between 15 and 23 May.
36 more cases of the virus have been detected in UK (as of May 23), which brings the total number of infections in the UK to 57.
At least 30 cases of monkeypox have so far been confirmed across Spain. Spanish health authorities have attributed the majority of infections in the country to a single outbreak in a gay sauna in the Madrid region, which has since been closed, and a Pride event in the Canary Islands that drew tens of thousands of people.
Austria confirmed its first case of the virus on Sunday, while in the US health authorities said they might have found the country’s third case and were running tests on a patient in South Florida.
“Stigma and blame undermine trust and capacity to respond effectively during outbreaks like this one,” said the UNAIDS deputy executive director, Matthew Kavanagh.
“Experience shows that stigmatising 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.”
WHO expert Andy Seale stressed the importance of remembering that monkeypox is not an illness that affects any one community more than others.
Seale went on to suggest that an elevated proportion of UK cases in gay or bisexual men could be due to an increased awareness of sexual health amongst the community.
Dr. John Brooks, a CDC official, also emphasized that anyone can contract monkeypox through close personal contact regardless of sexual orientation. Brooks said that since many of the people affected globally so far are men who identify as gay or bisexual, gay and bi men may have greater chance of exposure to monkeypox right now, but that doesn’t mean the risk is limited only to the gay and bisexual community.
Monkeypox is considered endemic in 11 African nations, but had previously been very rare in places like Europe or the US. Although current cases are only a small fraction of the population, and given everything with COVID in recent years, it’s not surprising that governments would want to get a jump on the virus quickly.
Dr Hans Kluge, regional director for the WHO in Europe, also emphasised the importance of not stigmatising the virus in a statement:
“I would like to emphasise that individuals contracting monkeypox must not be stigmatised or discriminated against in any way” he said. “Timely risk communication with the general public is important, and public health bodies should widely disseminate accurate and practical advice on prevention, diagnosis and treatment.”
Monkeypox symptoms include fever, muscle aches, swollen lymph nodes, chills, exhaustion and a chickenpox-like rash on the hands and face or genitalia.
The first case of monkeypox in the current outbreak was reported to the WHO on May 7. The person in question had recently returned to the UK from Nigeria, where they are believed to have contracted the infection.
The later confirmed cases, however, did not have travel links to countries where the virus is endemic, potentially indicating that the disease had been present and silently spreading before May 7.
Symptoms usually clear up after two to four weeks without treatment.
Find out more about monkeypox symptoms, and what to do if you spot any, here.
#Monkeypox Anyone with unusual rashes or lesions on any part of their body should contact NHS 111 or call a sexual health service. With recent cases mainly reported in gay and bisexual men, those in this community should be particularly alert.
Get the latest updates ⏬
— UK Health Security Agency (@UKHSA) May 23, 2022