The World Health Organization (WHO) announced the spread of monkeypox in countries where the virus is typically not endemic. Some 92 confirmed cases and 28 suspected cases have been reported as of May 21.
The WHO noted that most cases, though not exclusively, have been identified among men who have sex with men. The reason for this is undetermined but it has led to concern that these communities could face stigma or discrimination similar to their experience with regard to the HIV/AIDS epidemic during the 1980s.
At a press conference, the WHO made this statement: “This is not a gay disease as some people on social media have attempted to label it. That's just not the case. Anybody can contract monkeypox through close contact.”
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), monkeypox is caused by a virus of the same name that can infect people by entering the body through broken skin, the respiratory tract, or mucous membranes like the eyes, nose, or mouth. People can also catch it through direct contact with bodily fluids or lesion material.
The available evidence suggests those who are most at risk are people who have had close physical contact with someone with monkeypox, and that risk is not limited to men who have sex with men.
The repercussions of labeling HIV/AIDS a homosexual disease led to untold suffering in gay communities in the 1980s who were blamed for the epidemic. Cases were under-reported in the early days of the epidemic as those who contracted the virus went underground instead of seeking care. This resulted in many missed opportunities to quickly learn about the infection, understand its transmission and importantly, provide targeted public health interventions to curb its spread. Instead, individuals in the group most affected at the time were blamed for their own suffering and ostracized as purveyors of disease.
Today, the danger of misinformation about monkeypox is amplified by social media and sensational news media. It is critical that reports on health should always lead with facts and science. As we learned with HIV/AIDS and with COVID, misinformation spreads infection among groups that incorrectly believed that they were not at risk, leads to dangerous silencing and shaming, and harms public health.
Please read the following CDC articles to help you make informed decisions regarding monkeypox and sexual activity: