SEATTLE – The World Health Organization said monkeypox cases globally have mainly, but not exclusively, been identified in men who are gay or bisexual.
Now, local health professionals are raising awareness about the orthopoxvirus and its ability to infect anyone, not just specific groups of people.
“Viruses don’t care what your gender, sexual orientation, politics or what your hair color is… you’re a warm, sentient being. They will infect you,” said Deborah Fuller, professor in the Department of Microbiology at the UW School of Medicine.
Fuller said transmission requires close, face-to-face contact and that it is actually not easy to catch.
“R0 (naught) is how many people can you infect if you were infected with a virus, and that particular factor is 12 right now for COVID-19–one person can potentially infect 12 people,” said Fuller. “With monkeypox, it’s generally between zero and one. So that’s why in the past, when we’ve had monkeypox outbreaks, it’s been fairly efficient to get those outbreaks under control because you could quickly diagnose, quarantine, contact trace and we also happen to have an effective vaccine against it.”
Health experts said monkeypox has a long incubation period. Currently, cases have been reported across the globe in North America, Europe, the UK and Australia.
“It just so happens some of the cases where people became infected occurred at gatherings were LGBTQI+ people came together,” said Dr. Kevin Wang, a family physician in the Seattle area. “To me, what is more dangerous I guess than ‘infection’ is how marginalized populations are frequently becoming the scapegoats for these types of outbreaks and infections.”
Dr. Wang sits on multiple boards of local and national LGBTQI+ advocacy organizations, including Seattle Pride. He said in just recent years, the queer community was blamed for coronavirus in several countries.
“This is something which has been happening for centuries… where Jewish communities were targeted during the bubonic plague in the 1300s, Haitian-Americans were thought to be responsible for the HIV epidemic in the 80s, Mexican-Americans were blamed for H1N1 in 2009,” said Dr. Wang.
The CDC is reporting about a dozen cases of monkeypox as of Friday, and said at least one of the cases is a woman who recently traveled out of the country.
“It’s going to take a little bit longer to get it under control,” said Fuller considering there are multiple hot spots, “but these particular tools and strategies are very effective. “Ultimately I think we’re going to see this peter out as it has in the past.”
If you’d like to learn more about monkeypox, health officials advise reaching out to your doctor or your local public health agency.