CDC and WHO caution people not to use Mpox as a way to label a community negatively

Published Jul 1, 2024


The South African Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has advised the LGBTQIA+ community to take precautions against the spread of Mpox, following the conclusion of Gay Pride events this weekend.

South Africa has reported 16 cases of Mpox, resulting in three deaths. Mpox is transmitted through close physical or sexual contact.

Wits University says gay and bisexual men face a moderate risk of infection, while the risk for other population groups is low.

Dr John Blandford, the director of CDC South Africa, said Mpox was not exclusively a disease of the gay community although its transmission had been primarily observed within that demographic.

“It is not a gay disease. It is just a disease that is circulating in the gay community, which is why we wanted to get the information out so that it reaches that population, in order to make them aware of what to look for in symptoms,” Blandford said.

“This is a huge weekend for the LGBTQIA+ community to come out and celebrate, as well as meet people and potential new partners. We just want people to think about those engagements, and to potentially reduce their sexual activity. At a minimum, we want them to be aware of the symptoms.”

Monkeypox, a rare viral disease similar to smallpox but usually less severe, can spread through intimate contact during sex if a person has an active rash, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

The virus can also be transmitted through large respiratory droplets but since the droplets don’t travel far in the air, close and prolonged contact is needed for transmission to occur.

Direct contact with bodily fluids or contaminated items like clothes or bedsheets could also spread monkeypox.

Symptoms typically appear 7 to 14 days after exposure and include swollen lymph nodes, headache, fever, muscle aches, and fatigue. Later, a rash develops, turning into lesions that blister and scab over, often covering the entire body.

The illness usually lasts from two to four weeks.

People are contagious from one day before the rash appears and up to 21 days after symptoms start. Once the scabs fall off, they are no longer contagious.

The CDC considers the overall risk to the public to be low, and there’s no need to cancel parties or events to prevent the spread.

The Joint UN Programme on HIV/Aids said it was crucial to ensure the outbreak did not lead to stigma against the LGBTQIA+ community. Some reports and discussions about monkeypox had used language and imagery that reinforced stereotypes and worsened stigma.

Monkeypox is a rare viral disease similar to smallpox but usually less severe.

UNAids deputy executive director Matthew Kavanagh said stigmatising language damaged effective responses to health issues.

He acknowledged the leadership of the LGBTQIA+ community for raising awareness and stressed that the disease could affect anyone.

The WHO also cautioned against using the disease to unfairly label a community.

WHO adviser Andy Seale highlighted the stigma surrounding diseases and emphasised the importance of accurate messaging.

He said that while cases had been observed among men who have sex with other men, the disease was not exclusive to any particular group.

The antiviral drug, tecovirimat, sold under the brand name TPoxx, is included in the national stockpile and could be used for monkeypox, although there is no data on its effectiveness in humans.

There is also no data on human effectiveness for another possible treatment, vaccinia immune globulin.

The CDC said that because the monkeypox virus was closely related to the smallpox virus, the smallpox vaccine could protect against monkeypox. The Strategic National Stockpile had enough smallpox vaccines to protect everyone.

The CDC recommended that anyone who had a new or unexplained rash should get it checked by a medical professional.

People who were infected should stay isolated at home, away from people and pets, wear a surgical mask and cover their lesions as much as possible until they have healed.

They should also avoid close contact with children, people who were pregnant and those who had weakened immune systems because those groups were at higher risk of complications if they caught the virus.