The first case of the current monkeypox epidemic was reported by the World Health Organization (WHO) on 7 May. The infected person recently returned to the UK from Nigeria (presumably where he was infected). Cases have since been reported in more than a dozen countries, including countries where the disease is not commonly present, including several European countries, including Israel, the United States and Canada, as well as Australia.
A new strange infectious disease such as the monkeypox has aroused public and media interest and instilled fear in the population. In part, this is due to its “exotic” nature, fear of infection, and the perception that it is spreading rapidly and invisibly. Misinformation spread in the media, especially on social media, may further exacerbate public anxiety, as was the case with Ebola in 2014.
There have been many recent cases of gay, bisexual and other men having sex with men, so there is a real risk of creating a new stigma towards this group.
Queer people have been exposed to the stigma associated with infectious diseases for years, especially during the HIV pandemic. Despite this, even in countries where LGBTQ rights are protected, there is a strong dynamic of homophobia, despite the great efforts of the LGBTQI community, public education programs and equal rights legislation.
Some of the stigmas were rooted in a religion and cultural belief that equated sexuality with immorality and obscenity. Gay and bisexual men were thought to be the source and cause of the spread of HIV infection, although its causes were of various kinds, such as sex with heterosexual people, needle injuries, the spread of infection from mother to child. The situation was worse for men belonging to ethnic minorities because racial prejudices and stereotypes reinforced the stigma.
This had serious consequences for the affected people and caused particular damage to their mental and emotional well-being. This affected their social and sexual relationships, they were treated in social isolation and, in many cases, rejected by their partners. This led to a change in some of their health-related behaviors, meaning that they were not prepared to disclose their own issues and who their contacts were, which hindered the virus from researching and health groups trying to track the disease and stop it from spreading.
How can we deal with this disease? Increasing access to reliable sources of health information can alleviate public fears. It is important to help the community determine the risk of the disease. Usually, monkeypox is a mild disease that disappears on its own in a few weeks and does not spread easily. Its symptoms are: fever, headache, muscle aches, fatigue, unusual rash on hands, feet and face. It can be spread by contact with an infected person or animal through the use of clothing and linen by a person with a rash.
The public needs to be reassured that this is not a new disease because scientists have studied it for years and are well aware of what the consequences might be.