Don’t spread monkeypox stigma
Americans, having just started to get over their fears of rampant Covid, are alarmed and exasperated by the news of rising domestic monkeypox cases. Over 3,500 citizens have been diagnosed with the orthopoxvirus, a massive portion of cases occurring in New York City: more than 1,100 inhabitants have been infected, most of which adult men.
The W.H.O director general, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, voted to declare the virus a global health emergency and the U.S. has since purchased 800,000 vaccines in anticipation of wider spread. Ten percent of these vaccines will be shipped to NYC.
Monkeypox causes flu-like symptoms, including body aches, fever and fatigue. In more serious cases, patients can develop internal and external rashes and lesions that produce excruciating pain during normal bodily functions.
The exact origin of the virus is unknown, but it is known to spread through skin-to-skin contact with sores and surfaces they have touched, like linen and clothing. Other countries have found that it can be contracted through rodent bites or eating contaminated meats.
In the United States, the spread has occurred most often among men who have sex with other men. However, monkeypox is not an STI — a disease is not sexually transmitted just because it was contracted during sexual intercourse. If you catch a cold from a sexual partner, it came from respiratory or oral transmission, not intercourse.
But this conclusion has not stopped monkeypox from being associated with homosexual males and individuals with male genitalia.
People have expressed concern that this virus has not received accurate attention — gay and bisexual men are worried that this will be a flashback to the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the ‘80s.
Gabriel Morales, a NYC man, told The New York Times about his experience seeking out medical care when ill with monkeypox. He recounted a complete “lack of compassion” and slow response time (and a hefty ER bill) from health services, despite being in unbearable pain for days without any medication. In the ’80s, men dying of HIV/AIDS dealt with similar malpractice.
Others worry that health officials are attempting to categorize it as a predominantly homosexual virus in the public eye because vaccines and pain management is being reserved mainly for men who have sex with men.
Victims of the disease shouldn’t have to deal with yet another stigma in addition to the physical agony they’re enduring.
Vaccines are and will hopefully continue to be available in certain places, which is an appropriate response. And with Covid still terrorizing the world, it’s understandable that monkeypox hasn’t been center stage.
But the fear is not only that there will be no movement to contain the virus — the fear is that the government and other agencies will do little to contain the social consequences for the LGBT community. Will leaders once again drag their feet as gay men die en masse?
The Kaiser Family Foundation reported in 2021 that 78% of Americans claimed to have heard at least one falsity about Covid throughout the pandemic; 32% either believed or were unsure about the validity of the statements.
We’ve seen how detrimental faux facts have been for Americans since 2020: noncompliance with mask mandates, rejection of vaccines, and ’alternative’ treatments that landed people in the hospital with both Covid and Ivermectin poisoning. Allowing this phenomenon to repeat itself with monkeypox would disproportionately affect a vulnerable minority group — one that has already faced pestilence in the midst of hate.
Education is the best route to take, even if there will always be demographics that deny it. We should learn about the symptoms and refuse to join in on the shaming of gay men. We shouldn’t think we are safe from the virus — anyone can be infected with it. In fact, monkeypox has been detected in two American children at this time.
Dr. Ghebreyesus should be praised for his prompt measures: if Covid has taught us anything, being proactive is crucial. The state has jumped on board: on Monday, health centers made monkeypox vaccines available to 18+ LGBT individuals who had multiple sexual partners within 14 days prior to getting the shot.
In the case of monkeypox, acting fast could save not only gay and bi men but the country from another epidemic of ignorance and denial.
The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Managing Editor Izaskun E. Larrañeta, staff writer Erica Moser and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.