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  • How Gay Men Saved Us From Mpox

    It was July of 2022, just last summer, and an outbreak of mpox — formerly known as monkeypox — was in full swing. From a handful of cases in a few cities in early May, the outbreak surged to more than 16,000 cases in 75 countries and territories just two months later. It was terrifying.

    The sudden appearance of so many mpox cases everywhere and all at once was shocking. Aside from an occasional case among travelers from countries in West or Central Africa, where the virus is endemic, mpox was extremely rare in Europe or North America. The United States had seen only one outbreak, back in 2003, among Midwesterners with pet prairie dogs that had been housed with infected African rodents. There were 47 cases then and no documented cases of human-to-human transmission.

    This time was different. In early May of 2022, mpox found its way to gay raves in Spain and Belgium, huge annual parties that draw men from all over the world. Clothing was scant, grinding was plentiful and when the parties were over everyone flew home. Within weeks, mpox cases — resulting from human-to-human transmission — began cropping up in cities worldwide.

    #sante #mpox #sante_communautaire

    • When the first cases were reported among gay and bi men in the West, health authorities and the media couldn’t bring themselves to say the word “gay.” To avoid stigmatizing gay and bi men, early reports buried the lead. The Associated Press didn’t mention that this outbreak was being seen almost exclusively in gay men until 15 paragraphs into one report; other reports didn’t mention gay and bi men at all. A gay man scanning headlines in May of last year might have learned of an outbreak — but unless he had traveled to West Africa recently, or had contact with infected rodents or primates, he could have easily concluded that he wasn’t at risk.
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      While this desire to avoid stigmatizing gay and bisexual men was understandable, it wasn’t helpful. We know gay sex has been unfairly blamed for everything from natural disasters to the fall of Rome. But in their efforts to avoid stigmatizing the community, health authorities and the media failed to effectively warn gay and bi men. Ignorant of the threat as the virus spread, gay and bi men couldn’t take steps to protect themselves and their partners.

      Unfortunately, stigma and discrimination found the community anyway. Gay men with mpox were turned away from urgent care clinics and emergency rooms. Phlebotomists refused to draw their blood. Like its predecessors Covid-19 and H.I.V./AIDS, mpox had all the makings of a public health disaster. It took nearly two months into the outbreak for testing to become widely available. A dearth of vaccines created “Hunger Games”-like scenarios in cities throughout the country, with vaccine clinics opening and then shutting their doors for lack of supply. Cases began to appear in a small handful of transgender people and cisgender women and children, raising alarm about wider spread.

    • But while health officials and journalists hesitated, gay and bi men sprang into action. Young men with lesions covering their faces took to social and mainstream media, telling the public that they were dealing with “the worst pain I’ve experienced in my life” and, perhaps the most telling, “I’d rather have Covid.” Benjamin Ryan, a gay journalist, and Carlton Thomas, a gay doctor, risked cancellation — e.g., being yelled at on Twitter — to dish out what Dr. Thomas referred to as “tough love” advice for their community: Slam the brakes on sex outside of committed relationships; seek immediate medical care for symptoms; and get vaccinated as soon as possible.

      And the gay community listened.
      So while an early and frankly honest public health response could have blunted the outbreak, resulting in far fewer cases and far less suffering, the swift collective action of gay and bi men prevented catastrophe. If the broader American public had responded to the threat of Covid-19 the way gay and bi men responded to the threat of mpox, we might have seen fewer cases (there have been 100 million to date) and a lower death toll (1.1 million and counting). When the next infectious outbreak strikes (and surely it will), the public would be wise to channel gay and bi men: communicate openly without stigmatization, organize and insist on access to effective prevention, diagnosis and treatment.

      There’s another important lesson about the gay community that health officials and journalists need to remember going forward: When it comes to emerging health threats — even ones that can spread sexually — gay men can handle the truth. You can give it to them straight.