Monkeypox fears could stigmatize LGBTQ2+ community, expert says

A theory that the recent outbreak of monkeypox may be tied to sexual activity has put the gay community in an unfortunate position, having fought back against previous and continued stigma around HIV and AIDS, an LGBTQ2+ centre director says.

David Hawkins, executive director of the West Island LGBTQ2+ Centre in Beaconsfield, Que., told CTV News Channel on Saturday that the situation is frustrating, and he worries the conversation around monkeypox will indirectly impact and stigmatize the LGBTQ2+ — lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, two-spirit and other — community yet again.

“We have very strong community organizations that are working to destigmatize HIV and AIDS still, and they still have a lot of work to do and they’re doing that work, but I think the reality is, is that we may also need to start having this conversation about monkeypox,” Hawkins said.

A number of western countries, including Canada, have reported cases of monkeypox.

First discovered in 1958, monkeypox is a rare disease caused by a virus that belongs to the same family as the one that causes smallpox. The disease was first found in colonies of monkeys used for research and has primarily been reported in central and western African countries.

Monkeypox typically causes fever, chills, rash and lesions on the face or genitals, and can spread through close contact via respiratory droplets or bodily fluids with an infected person or their contaminated material, such as clothing or bedsheets. However, infectious usually occur through contact with infected animals, such as wild rodents and primates.

As of Monday morning, the World Health Organization (WHO) has recorded more than 90 cases in a dozen countries, but health officials have stressed that monkeypox is not COVID-19.

A report on Monday from The Associated Press quoted a leading adviser to the WHO, who said the unprecedented outbreak, while “random” and unlikely to trigger widespread transmission, may be explained by risky sexual behaviour at two recent raves in Spain and Belgium.

U.K. officials say “a notable proportion” of cases in Britain and Europe have been in young men with no history of travel to Africa and who are gay, bisexual or have sex with men. Authorities in Portugal and Spain said their cases were in men who mostly had sex with other men and whose infections were picked up when they sought help for lesions at sexual health clinics.

Monkeypox has not previously resulted in widespread outbreaks beyond Africa, where it is endemic in animals.

Most people recover within several weeks without requiring hospitalization, and smallpox vaccines are effective in preventing monkeypox. Health officials say no deaths have been reported among the current cases.

On Friday, Quebec’s health department said five cases had been confirmed in the province and the Public Health Agency of Canada was investigating about two-dozen other cases.

Health officials in Toronto said Saturday that they also are investigating the first suspected case of monkeypox in the city.

Speaking to CTV’s Power Play on Friday, infectious disease specialist Dr. Isaac Bogoch said given the long incubation period of monkeypox, he expects it to “grumble along for a while,” potentially for weeks.

“So good hand hygiene, and if people are in close proximity with a known case, a mask would help,” he said.

With files from CTVNews.ca Writer Solarina Ho, The Canadian Press and The Associated Press

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