Cases of monkeypox are on the rise, especially among gay men. Here’s what it’s like to get the infection.

Marco, 40, lives with his partner in Edmonton, Alberta. Marco’s partner had been feeling ‘uncomfortable’ for a few days – a low fever, a little tiredness and a few small bumps on his hands, which he didn’t give much thought to as they didn’t look serious.

Marco joked with him, suggesting it might be monkeypox. “I mean, what are the odds? Like 1 in 6 billion? he told BuzzFeed News.

At that time, there was only one confirmed case of monkeypox virus in all of Alberta.

The next day, Marco’s partner received a call from a public health nurse informing him that he had been in close contact with someone who tested positive for monkeypox. Marco also spoke with the nurse, telling her that he was feeling fine, but had what appeared to be a sore under his tongue, but it was not particularly noticeable.

“I just had tacos with Valentina sauce on them, and it didn’t hurt at all,” he said. (Hot sauce would cause most canker sores to burn.) Assessing their risk and symptoms, the nurse told them both to come in immediately for a test.

Two days after being tested, Marco and his partner received another call from the public health nurse. “I just got the call, we’re both positive for monkeypox,” he told BuzzFeed News on Wednesday.

Monkeypox is still relatively rare, but cases are on the rise

A new outbreak of monkeypox is spreading across the United States, Canada and Europe, and many of the first cases were in gay men. According to the World Health Organization, as of June 8 there were around 1,200 cases of monkeypox worldwide, including 321 in the UK, 100 in Canada and 39 in the US. Fifteen different states have had cases, including California, New York and Florida.

There are reasons to be concerned, but this is not another COVID. The virus is not as contagious or as easy to spread, and there are already two vaccines for monkeypox. One is Jynneos (also known by the brand names Imvamune or Imvanex), and the other is ACAM2000. They can help prevent symptoms even after exposure or infection.

While around 3% to 6% of people with monkeypox may die from the infection, which is more dangerous in children and immunocompromised people, the strain of the virus currently spreading appears to be milder, similar to that endemic to West Africa. A more dangerous strain of monkeypox is endemic to central Africa.

The cases are occurring just as Pride events are underway in many cities. People are traveling and celebrating during a time that for many is the first summer since 2019 when they can finally gather without COVID restrictions. Mask mandates are no longer in place on public transport or in many cities. Because close contact is one of the ways the virus spreads, health experts are on high alert and working quickly to spread awareness of STIs to LGBTQ+ communities.

But to be clear, monkeypox is not technically an STI, although some people report having lesions on their genitals or contracting the virus through sexual contact. The disease can be spread through any type of close or bodily contact, including hugs and kisses, sharing towels or sheets, or even respiratory secretions from breathing or talking during face-to-face contact prolonged – so wearing a mask can help stop the spread of the virus.

Monkeypox is not a new disease. It was first discovered in monkeys used for scientific research (hence its name) in 1958 and first observed in humans in 1970. In places where it is endemic, it naturally circulates in animals such as rodents, sometimes jumping to humans who handle infected animals or are bitten or scratched by them.

Cases are rare outside of Africa or among people who have not recently traveled to an endemic area, although there was an outbreak in the Midwestern United States in 2003. In this case, 70 people contracted the virus from pet prairie dogs that were housed with imported rats. and dormice.

Typical symptoms of monkeypox include fever, headache, muscle aches, back pain, swollen lymph nodes, chills, and exhaustion. Symptoms usually appear 7 to 14 days after exposure, but they can appear between 5 and 21 days. About one to three days after symptoms start, people usually develop rashes and raised lesions, which eventually form scabs and scabs that fall off. Overall, symptoms can persist for up to four weeks.

Marco found that his and his partner’s symptoms were different from what he had read on public health agency websites.

“You know how when people start having symptoms, they go to see Dr. Google,” Marco said. “And you see the signs and symptoms, but no one is saying the signs and symptoms can vary.”

People infected with monkeypox may have a rash that starts on the face before spreading to other parts of the body, according to the CDC.

Marco noted that neither he nor his partner had developed a rash. “The rash is supposed to turn into pustules all over the body,” Marco said. “It didn’t happen to us either, except maybe under my tongue.”

Monkeypox is not a “gay disease” and the potential for stigma is a concern

Marco asked us to use his first name only to avoid potential diagnosis stigma for him or his partner, but he also wanted to share their experiences to prevent further spread of the virus.

Stigma is built into the LGBTQ+ experience.

HIV/AIDS has been closely associated with gay men since the epidemic soared in the 1980s. Some fear that monkeypox is following the same path. This year, UNAIDS, the international HIV/AIDS organization, issued a statement on the stigmatizing effects of referring to LGBTQ+ people, as well as Africans, in public communications about monkeypox.

In addition to causing social harm, UNAIDS has also warned that such associations could lead to more public health problems. The program’s deputy executive director, Dr Matthew Kavanagh, said in the statement: “Stigma hurts everyone. Shared science and social solidarity help everyone.

Others say concern about stigma is less important when public health is at stake. Historian Jim Downs recently wrote an article for the Atlantic titled “Gay Men Need Specific Smallpox Warning monkey”. In this article, Downs writes, “Giving homosexuals carefully tailored warnings about the risk of monkeypox can be a form of education, not a form of stigma.

Peter Staley, one of the original members of the HIV/AIDS activist organization ACT UP, agrees. He said gay men will always be stigmatized, whether it’s because of the rhetoric surrounding monkeypox or otherwise.

“The right will attack us for anything and everything. They always have and they always will,” he told BuzzFeed News. “We should never let this dictate how gay men talk to each other about health and risk.”

Staley fully acknowledges that communicating monkeypox risk carries the possibility that the general public may associate the virus with gay men, thereby creating stigma.

“You have to fight two battles at once. We need to get the word out to gay men through targeted messaging. And we must be prepared to combat the resulting stigma by delivering messages tailored to the general public. »

Just weeks after the first case was reported in the United States on May 19, targeted messages about monkeypox are already reaching gay men nationwide. Such agile communications are possible thanks to the existing infrastructures paved by campaigns to reach LGBTQ+ people for the prevention of HIV/AIDS and other STIs.

Since June is Pride Month, the CDC moved quickly to send its director of HIV/AIDS prevention, Dr. Demetre Daskalakis, to engage with organizations and health groups to raise awareness about monkeypox. . He and his team plan to speak with several Pride organizers this week. Daskalakis said the rallies this summer can be seen as more opportunity than risk.

“I believe Pride is a great opportunity to educate people. And when I think about our advice, it’s really about giving people the knowledge they need to navigate the events that can happen all the time. summer whether they go to Pride or not,” he told BuzzFeed News. “I tend not to think of places as risky environments because it’s really about mitigating your own risks, to have the right information to be able to navigate what you are ready to do.”

Daskalakis thinks this outbreak of monkeypox has more parallels with a 2008 epidemic of MRSA, an antibiotic-resistant staph infection, than with the HIV/AIDS pandemic that began in the 1980s. of flesh first spread among groups of gay men before spreading to the general population.

“It’s so similar in that it spreads through very close contact. Sex could be one of the reasons why there is close contact, of course, or other intimacy,” Daskalakis said.

Then, as now, agencies issued similar warnings through health care providers, especially those focusing on HIV/AIDS, who had more gay clients. This was before the advent of smartphones and location-based dating apps. Now the conversation has widened.

Grindr, the most popular of these apps, has issued several informational warnings about monkeypox. The app blew up every user’s inbox in the US, Canada and most European countries with a message written by a local health agency and a link to more official information from a source in their country.

“We’re not a public health authority, but we’re great connective tissue,” said Patrick Lenihan, Grindr’s vice president of communications. “Our users want this information, and these groups want to distribute it to keep this population safe.”

In the US, Grindr works with a group called Building Healthy Online Communities, which aims to provide targeted sexual health messaging by connecting public health professionals and dating apps. The app has connected with the Public Health Agency of Canada to send warning messages to its users.

What to do if you think you have monkeypox

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