Monkeypox: What Gay and Bisexual Men Need to Know

Public health officials are eager to reach men who have sex with men without adding stigma.

On Thursday, the White House declared monkeypox a federal public health emergency, which will increase funding and resources to address the current outbreaks in the US. 

The announcement follows similar emergency declarations by California, Illinois and New York state. All three states are home to large gay communities and, to date, men who have sex with men are the largest sector of the population impacted by the outbreak.

There were 7,509 confirmed cases of monkeypox in the US as of Aug. 6, according to data from the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention, and roughly 98% of those are among gay/bisexual men.  

Of course, monkeypox is not limited to LGBTQ people: Most cases in Africa, where the disease is endemic, are not among gay men, the World Health Organization reported.

Transmission can occur via direct skin-to-skin contact with infected lesions, rashes, scabs or fluids. It can also be passed on by touching surfaces, clothing or other objects used by someone with monkeypox, and via large respiratory droplets — such as through coughing or sneezing.

When WHO declared the disease a global health emergency on July 23, director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus underscored the importance of adopting policies that protected the dignity and civil liberties of affected communities. 

He cautioned that “stigma and discrimination can be as dangerous as any virus.”

At the same time, Tedros said, because transmission seems concentrated among gay/bi men — especially those with multiple sexual partners — “this is an outbreak that can be stopped with the right strategies in the right groups.”

Here’s what men who have sex with men need to know about monkeypox, including whether it’s a sexually transmitted infection, what safer-sex practices authorities are recommending and how the virus could interact with HIV.

For more info on monkeypox and the gay community, check out resource pages from GMHCHRCWHO and the CDC.

What is monkeypox?

Monkeypox is a virus in the same family as smallpox, though it is milder and rarely fatal. It was first documented in humans in 1970 and is endemic in parts of Central and West Africa, especially the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The first reported cases of monkeypox in the US were in 2003, all linked to infected prairie dogs being kept as pets.

Monkeypox can present as a rash or individual sores that look like pimples or blisters. They can appear almost anywhere on the body, including the hands, face, chest, groin and inside the mouth or anus. 

Fatality rates are very low, between 1% and 10% depending on the strain, and deaths usually occur in young children and those with compromised immune systems.

As of Aug. 6, no deaths have been reported in the US. 

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