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Monkeypox: a new stigma for the LGBTQ community in Spain

With one of Europe’s biggest gay pride celebrations just around the corner, Spain’s LGBTQ community is concerned that monkeypox outbreaks on the continent will lead to an increase in homophobic sentiment due to misunderstandings about the disease.

Spanish health authorities reported on Thursday that there are already 84 confirmed cases in the country, the largest number in Europe.

The list includes a woman, the Madrid region said in a statement on Friday without giving further details.

Health authorities have focused their investigations on links between a Gay Pride event in the Canary Islands that drew some 80,000 people in early May and cases linked to a Madrid sauna.

However, some people, especially gay and bisexual men, believe there is some homophobic hysteria in the general public’s reaction to the rare outbreak of the disease outside of Africa, where it has long been endemic.

Most of the known cases in Europe they have occurred among men who have sex with men, according to authorities in Britain, Spain, Germany and Portugal.

The pride march in Gran Canaria where the disease would have spread.

A top adviser to the World Health Organization said the outbreak was likely triggered by sexual activity at two recent mass events in Europe.

Gay pride

The outbreak in Spain appears in full preparation of the celebration of Gay Pride in Madrid, which will take place at the beginning of July.

It is expected to draw large crowds, unlike the events of the last two years, which were scaled back or canceled due to COVID-19 restrictions.

The organizers say that the last Pride party in the city before the pandemic, in 2019, brought together 1.6 million participants, although the police put the figure at around 400,000.

“Pride is a great party, it is a moment to make our voices heard that brings together many people,” he told Associated Press Mario Blázquez, coordinator of health programs for the LGBTQ group in Madrid.

monkeypox

Blázquez said he worries that next month’s Pride festivities are in jeopardy because of overly strict restrictions pushed in part by prejudices and in part because of fears of another public health emergency on top of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“We don’t know what will happen. We don’t know what the level of transmission of the virus will be or what legal measures could be taken. And then what stigma could be generated with these legal measures that are sometimes discriminatory,” he said.

Until now, the Spanish authorities have not mentioned any radical public health measures that prevent large gatherings.

But Blázquez said that beyond the Pride March, he worries that society could make the same mistake it did at the start of the HIV/AIDS crisis in the 1980s, when the focus on the disease among homosexual men hid its spread among the general population.

The massive Gay Pride march in Madrid in 2017. Photo: EFE

The massive Gay Pride march in Madrid in 2017. Photo: EFE

“This is a disease that can be contracted by any member of the population,” Blázquez said.

“We are facing an outbreak that unfortunately has again affected LGBTQ people and especially gay and bisexual men. What is happening is something similar to the first cases of HIV,” he added.

The progression of the disease

The health authorities of Europe, North America, Israel and Australia have identified more than 150 cases of the disease in recent weeks.

It is an unexpected outbreak of a disease that rarely appears outside of Africa, where it has remained a serious health threat since the first human cases were discovered in the 1970s.

Experts say that anyone can become infected through close contact with a sick person, their clothes or their sheets.

Most people recover within two to four weeks without hospitalization. However, the WHO reports that in recent times between 3 and 6% of cases were fatal.

Health authorities around the world are keeping an eye out for more cases because, for the first time, the disease appears to be spreading among people who have not traveled to Africa. However, they emphasize that the risk to the general population is low.

As of Thursday, Italy had confirmed 10 cases of monkeypox, some but not all of them in people who had traveled to the Canary Islands.

“On the issue of sexual transmission, I think we still cannot strictly define it as a sexually transmitted disease,” said Dr. Andrea Antinori, Director of Viral Immunodeficiencies at Rome’s Spallanzani hospital.

“So I would avoid identifying this disease as sexually transmitted for the time being and, above all, identifying the population – men who have sex with men – as carriers of this disease, because I think it’s also a problem of responsibility from the point of view of not stigmatizing this situation,” he clarified.

“We still don’t understand this disease because we are looking at a new wave that is different from the way we knew it historically in previous decades.”

Vaccines

Spanish Health Minister Carolina Darias said on Wednesday that her government decided to participate in the European Union’s collective purchase of the monkeypox vaccine, which, like the COVID-19 vaccine, will be distributed based on of the population of each country. She noted that government health experts are studying how to use the vaccine once it becomes more widely available.

Amos García, president of the Spanish Association of Vaccinology, recommended that the vaccine only be administered to those who have had direct contact with an infected person and are vulnerable to infection, not to the general population.

“We are talking about a disease that does not have great potential to become an Pandemic,” Garcia said, adding that most Spaniards over 40 should be protected by the smallpox vaccines that were administered regularly decades ago.

Source: The Associated Press

Translation: Elisa Carnelli

CB

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