As of writing, there has been 3,207 confirmed cases of Monkeypox in the UK; 45,535 globally. Though the virus’ first case in a human being was confirmed in 1970, an atypical multi-country outbreak has arisen in 91 countries that have not previously reported cases. This has resulted in a public health emergency of international concern. Global authorities have introduced measures, including vaccines and surveillance, to monitor and limit the spread. While there are many physical concerns, the consequences we may see from the epidemic could be social too, with the risk of a stigma affecting men within gay and bisexual communities.
Monkeypox is a zoonic virus. This means it is transferred between animals and humans. The central reservoir is thought to be in rodents but the evidence is unclear. The virus has been prevalent in marginalised forested populations in Africa and has spread on the continent over the last 20 years. Improper management of these endemic regions and consistent malnutrition and poor infrastructure is to blame for non-endemic countries seeing localised outbreaks.
In humans, transmission can happen through prolonged skin-to-skin contact during sexual intercourse, inhalation of respiratory droplets or contact with body fluid. Initial symptoms include fever, headache and inflammation of lymph nodes. Often, these could be confused or downplayed leading to fewer diagnoses. A rash unique to Monkeypox is an important indicator for early diagnosis. Although symptoms are self-limited and fatality ranges from 3-6%, diagnosis is important in these early stages to prevent the spread. The UK was notified of its first cases in September 2018.
One of the most significant dangers of Monkeypox is the discrimination of the virus against gay and bisexual men. According to the Guardian, 98% of reported cases are in this community. Medical bodies have emphasised the importance of minimising social challenges that may arise, including homophobic stigma and discrimination. This risk of stigmatisation must be addressed. As shown in the HIV/AIDs outbreak, creating a negative association between LGBT+ men and an epidemic correlates with reduced access to diagnosis and treatment. Monkeypox must not be seen as an STI. It is important to remember that sexual intercourse is not the only way in which the virus can be transmitted and transmission is not limited to LGBT+ men.
For students, the best thing you can do is to learn and spread information about Monkeypox to as many people as possible. The more people that know the symptoms, the more people who will get treated. If you are concerned about monkeypox or want to know more information, sexual health clinics or the NHS website are your best resources.