Monkeypox: “We should be reporting the facts and directing people to support”

United Nations’ Aids agency (UNAIDS) recently denounced some current reporting on the monkeypox virus outbreak as “homophobic” and “racist”.

A disproportionate amount of focus has been on cases identified in gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men and African people who have contracted monkeypox. However. the virus has not previously been described as a sexually transmitted infection and can, in fact, affect anyone who has been in any form of close physical contact with a sufferer.

UNAIDS and other public health organisations supporting the LGBT+ community have raised their concerns about reporting of the outbreaks, with UNAIDS stating that some of the portrayals of Africans and LGBT+ people “reinforce homophobic and racist stereotypes and exacerbate stigma”.

Monkeypox is a rare infection that’s mainly spread by wild animals in parts of west or central Africa. The risk of catching it in the UK is usually low, but as of Tuesday 24th May, a total of 78 cases of monkeypox had been identified in the UK. Seventy-seven were found in England, one in Scotland but no cases have yet been identified in Northern Ireland or Wales.

Serena Cavanagh, Health Promotion Lead at Sahir House in Liverpool said: “While some reporting on the outbreak has been useful, stories around the monkeypox virus using homophobic and racist language have been really unhelpful. They reinforce harmful stereotypes and direct blame and stigma at specific communities.

Monkeypox has not previously been described as a sexually transmitted infection, though it can be passed on by direct contact during sex. It can also be passed on through other close contact with a person who has monkeypox or contact with clothing or linens used by a person who has monkeypox. This means it can affect or be transmitted by anyone.

“Right now, the media should be focusing on reporting the facts and directing people to help and support, rather than targeting blame or sensationalising the outbreak. As a local HIV charity, we take our guidance from Local Public Health and reputable sources, like UKHSA (Public Health England) and we advise members of the public to do the same.

Monkeypox symptoms include fever, muscle aches, swollen lymph nodes, chills, exhaustion and a chickenpox-like rash on the hands and face. No treatment exists, but the symptoms usually clear up after two to four weeks. The disease is considered endemic in 11 African nations.

Further information about monkeypox, including symptoms, can be found on the NHS website here and on GOV.UK here.

Anyone with concerns that they could be infected should see a health professional but make contact with the clinic or surgery ahead of a visit. NHS 111 can also give advice.