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As a result of tightly connected sexual networks, monkeypox may have found a new niche for spreading — among men-who-have-sex-with-men (MSM) and bisexual men. Moreover, Black gay and bisexual men are already showing disproportionate rates of monkeypox infection compared to non-Black MSMs — mainly in the South.
For instance, Black gay, same-gender-loving, and bisexual men comprise 82% of monkeypox infections in Georgia and 70% in North Carolina. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention CDC, over 11,000 monkeypox cases have been reported in the US as of August 12. Of that 11,000, 26% are among Black Americans, mostly identifying as gay or bisexual.
Monkeypox: how it spreads and symptoms to look for
A rash and fever are symptoms of monkeypox, a viral infection transmitted through close or intimate contact. This outbreak has not caused any deaths in the United States, and it is much less transmissible than fast-spreading respiratory diseases such as COVID-19.
Much like Covid, Blacks are still skeptical of vaccines deployed en masse by a federal government showing a history of medical malpractice towards their racial group. Moreover, the public stigma that monkeypox is exclusively a gay men’s disease. All of this is compounding the monkeypox disparity in the Black gay population.
The CDC says monkeypox can spread to anyone, regardless of sexual identity, sexual orientation and gender identity, through close, personal, often skin-to-skin contact, usually through close contact with an infected person’s rash, scabs, or body fluids. Moreover, touching objects, fabrics (e.g., clothing, bedding, or towels), and surfaces that have been used by someone with monkeypox increase the probability of one being infected. But there are other ways.
Symptoms of monkeypox include a rash that can appear on the genitals (e.g., penis, testicles, labia, and vagina) or anus, as well as hands, feet, chest, face, or mouth. In the beginning, the rash may appear like pimples or blisters and could be itchy or painful.
The virus usually causes symptoms within three weeks of exposure. Rashes appear 1 to 4 days after someone has flu-like symptoms.
A monkeypox infection can spread from when symptoms start until the rash has healed, the scabs have fallen off, and a fresh layer of skin has formed. In most cases, the illness lasts between two and four weeks.
There have been no reported deaths outside of Africa from the disease.
What The White House is Doing about Monkeypox
Since an outbreak of the virus in May 2022, President Joe Biden has taken critical steps to make vaccines, tests, and treatments available to those who need them. On August 2, two weeks after the WHO declared monkeypox a global health emergency, The White House declared it a public health emergency also.
To mitigate the spread of the virus, the Biden-Harris Administration has provided more than 1.1 million vaccine doses for Americans. Testing capacity has been increased from 6,000 to over 80,000 tests per week.
Communication has been ongoing with local health departments and providers, encouraging more frequent use of tests.
The CDC recommends vaccination for people who have been exposed to monkeypox and populations or communities who are at higher risk of being exposed to the virus (e.g., gay and bisexual men). The vaccine requires an initial dose followed by a booster shot four weeks later.
Dr. Demetre Daskalakis, National Monkeypox Response Deputy Coordinator
As part of The White House’s national monkeypox response, President Biden appointed Robert Fenton, the National Monkeypox Response Coordinator, and Dr. Demetre Daskalakis, the National Monkeypox Response Deputy Coordinator.
While serving the Biden-Harris Administration in his new role, Dr. Daskalakis is Director of HIV Prevention at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). His clinical practice has focused on providing care to underserved LGBTQIA+ communities. as a national expert in health issues affecting the LGBGQIA+ community.
According to Dr. Demetre Daskalakis, gay, bisexual, or the MSM population is most affected by monkeypox.
“When we look at the monkeypox outbreak currently [in the US], the majority of the cases are among gay and bisexual men or men who have sex with men [(MSM)],” about 98%. “It’s associated with sexual activity and or prolonged skin-on-skin contact,” Dr. Daskalakis says.
While the virus is mainly affecting the MSM population, Dr. Daskalakis says, “There are a lot of ways to get monkeypox.” But said the general public also needed to be aware of the disease. The public, however, doesn’t need to have anxiety such that it would impede one’s regular daily activities.
Furthermore, parents shouldn’t worry about sending their kids to school. And Americans shouldn’t be worried about catching monkeypox at grocery stores, the barber and beauty salon. But if you see someone with a rash, avoid contact.
Black health advocates say more needs to be done
To many physicians and public health experts, the monkeypox vaccine isn’t reaching subcommunities within the LGBTQIA+ community (e.g., inner city and rural Black youth) that are most at risk, which has them most concerned that the slow response efforts will adversely affect people of color the most.
“There is a lot more that could be done. We could first get better data on race and equity,” Global health, human rights, and public policy advocate Matthew Rose told The Black Wall Street Times.
Currently, not all states are reporting racial and ethnic data on the monkeypox rate of infection.
“We could apply some of the lessons from HIV and COVID vaccines by engaging with popular opinion leaders from those communities.” Rose adds, “we also need more forward messaging about how it’s good for your help rather than always being a disease model.”
Rose explains that funding and resources should be made available to organizations with long-standing relationships with these groups. “Keeping more Black providers up to date and providing this information as we know it helps when you have a provider who looks like you.”
Learn more about Angelo Perry’s experience by reading “We Spoke to An Atlanta Man with Monkeypox. Here’s What We Learned,” from Capital B News