Sex, Gays & Monkeypox; Know What WHO Says Declaring The Virus A Global Emergency
New Delhi: The World Health Organisation has activated its highest alert level for the growing monkeypox outbreak, declaring the virus a public health emergency of international concern.
The rare designation means the WHO now views the outbreak as a significant enough threat to global health that a coordinated international response is needed to prevent the virus from spreading further and potentially escalating into a pandemic, CNBC reported.
Infections have increased substantially over the past several weeks, pushing WHO head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus to issue the highest alert. More than 16,000 cases of monkeypox have been reported across 75 countries so far this year, and the number of confirmed infections rose 77% from late June through early July, according to WHO data. Gay men are currently at the highest risk of infection.
Five deaths from the virus have been reported in Africa this year. No deaths have been reported outside Africa so far.
Most people are recovering from monkeypox in two to four weeks, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The virus causes a rash that can spread over the body. People who have caught the virus said the rash, which looks like pimples or blisters can be very painful.
Monkeypox and sexual orientation
Monkeypox is primarily spreading through skin-to-skin contact during sex. The majority of transmission has occurred in the gay community. However, the WHO and the CDC have emphasised that anyone can catch monkeypox regardless of sexual orientation.
WHO’s lead expert on monkeypox, Dr Rosamund Lewis told reporters that 99% of cases reported outside Africa are among men and 98% of infections are among men who have sex with men, primarily those who have had multiple, recent anonymous or new sexual partners. The virus has been detected outside the gay community, but transmission has been low so far. The CDC confirmed monkeypox in two children on Friday.
Don’t stigmatise gays
The WHO and CDC have repeatedly warned against stigmatizing gay and bisexual men, while at the same time stressing the importance of communicating the reality of how the virus is currently spreading so people in communities at highest risk can take action to protect their health, said the report.
“People want the information to know how to protect themselves, in what circumstances are people perhaps at risk or getting infected,” Lewis said. It’s crucial for health agencies and community organizers to broadly disseminate information on how to reduce the risk of infection ahead of major celebrations and festivals this summer, she said.
Scientists in Spain and Italydetected monkeypox virus DNA in semen from positive patients, though it’s still unclear whether whether the virus can spread through semen during sex. The Spanish scientists also detected monkeypox DNA in saliva samples.
It’s also unclear whether the virus can spread when people are infected but don’t have symptoms, known as asymptomatic transmission.
Have safe sex
The U.S. CDC recommends that people avoid intimate physical contact with individuals who have a rash that looks like monkeypox, and consider minimising sex with multiple or anonymous partners. People should also consider avoiding sex parties or other events where people aren’t wearing a lot of clothing.
Individuals who do decide to have sex with a partner who has monkeypox should follow CDC guidance on lowering their risk, according to the health agency.
In the past, monkeypox normally began with symptoms similar to the flu, including fever, headache, muscle aches, chills, exhaustion and swollen lymph nodes. The disease then progressed into a rash that can spread over the body. Patients are considered most infectious when the rash develops.
But in the current outbreak, the symptoms have been atypical. Some people are developing a rash first, while others are showing a rash without any flu-like symptoms at all. Many patients have developed a localised rash on their genitals and anus.
The CDC and WHO have said the rash is easily confused with common sexually transmitted diseases. They have told health care providers that they should not rule out monkeypox simply because a patient tests positive for a sexually transmitted disease.
Although monkeypox can spread through respiratory droplets, that method requires prolonged face-to-face interaction, according to the CDC. Health officials do not believe monkeypox is spreading through small aerosol particles like Covid. Respiratory droplets are heavier so they do not stay airborne for as long, while Covid is an airborne virus, which is one of the reasons it’s so contagious.
Monkeypox can also spread through contact with contaminated materials, such as bedsheets and clothing.
“This disease is transmissible, but it’s not that transmissible. It’s a disease in which transmission can be contained,” Ryan said. “Like we said in Covid, don’t be the person to pass this disease on.”