Monkeypox Misconceptions: The virus isn’t only an LGBTQ+ concern, officials say

Members of the LGBTQ+ community worry that recent messaging stigmatizes some people.
Published: Jul. 28, 2022 at 6:02 PM HST|Updated: Jul. 28, 2022 at 6:48 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - State health officials want to make it clear: Monkeypox can infect anyone and it’s not just cause for concern within the LGBTQ+ community.

Some are worried recent messaging could be stigmatizing to some people.

Gay, bisexual and transgendered individuals have been labeled “high risk” when it comes to catching monkeypox because a number of cases have been linked back to those social circles.

However ,the DOH says the virus is not solely a sexually transmitted disease and can infect anyone.

“Anyone who is in close prolonged contact with someone with monkeypox infection is at risk, regardless of who you are, what you do, or what gender you identify as,” DOH Acting Communications Director Katie Arita-Chang said.

[Related report: UN health agency chief declares monkeypox a global emergency]

So far, there have been about 4,600 cases of monkeypox nationwide, making the U.S. the country with the most known cases as of Thursday.

Hawaii has 11 confirmed cases: Nine on Oahu, and one each on Kaua’i and Hawai’i Island.

The DOH said the cases were predominantly among LGBTQ individuals, but they did not say exactly how many. Some of the cases were traced back to travel, though no other details on local sources of infection were provided.

“Monkeypox has been spreading predominantly in social networks of gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men. That’s not because its a gay disease. We’re still learning about transmission, but I really wanna emphasize – any kind of close intimate contact is how monkeypox spreads, not necessarily just sexual contact,” Arita-Chang said.

Staff at the Hawaii Health and Harm Reduction Center hope recent messaging doesn’t scare people from getting the help they need.

“The LGBTQ community is such a loving community. Like, if I’m at a beach and I see you, and we just got out of the water, I’m gonna go up and hug you. So person to person contact — it doesn’t necessarily have to be of a sexual nature,” H3RC Community Relations Manager Andrew Ogata said.

“If there’s anything we learned from the HIV epidemic is that stigma can kill. So we definitely don’t want to stigmatize people. We don’t want to stigmatize it as a purely as an LGBTQIA concern,” Ogata added.

“We always say diseases don’t discriminate. Me being an LGBTQIA person, that doesn’t make my biological functions any different than a heterosexual person.”

H3RC is in the process of working with the DOH to become an approved vaccination site for monkeypox. They have submitted the proper paperwork and hope to start accepting appointments soon.

The DOH has received 1,400 doses of the JYNNEOS vaccine for statewide use so far, and plans to order more as soon as possible.

While hoping to breakdown and prevent communities from being stigmatized, the state health department reassures residents that the risk currently remains low. The fatality rate is also very low and the best thing to do if you suspect an infection is to contact adoctor.

“Monkeypox is not something that is likely to spread, walking down the street or in the super market, it really takes prolonged close contact,” Arita-Chang said. “There are vaccines and treatments available.”

Vaccine rollout began Wednesday to those at the top of the eligibility list. That includes Hawaii residents 18 years and older, have been exposed to someone with a confirmed case, and LGBTQ+ individuals who have been in settings with high risk contact. For more information or to schedule an appointment, call the DOH at 808-586-4462.

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