Reports of new monkeypox infections in Europe and the U.S. are increasing rapidly. Since the first case in England became known at the beginning of May, reports of infections are popping up all over Europe. The WHO is already calling for contact tracing of those infected, but has so far, based on available information, ruled out trade and travel restrictions. But while journalists already smell the next “big story” after COVID, news portals such as Queer.de are sounding the alarm, since the infected so far seem to have been mostly gay or bisexual men who had sexual contact with other men prior to their infections.
According to WHO statements, monkeypox was first identified in humans in Africa in 1970. Transmission to humans in Africa occurs primarily through close contact with infected rodents. However, human-to-human transmission is rare and possible only through close contact, such as sexual activity. Accordingly, the German Center for Sexual Health and Medicine “Walk in Ruhr” (WIR) in Bochum issued a warning that people who have sexual contact with many different people would be particularly at risk.
While official reports list sexual transmission via homosexual intercourse as only one of the possible options for transmission, news portals in the gay scene are a lot more vigilant. The British outlet Pinknews urges “queer men … to watch out” for skin rashes and other symptoms. According to the UK Health Security Agency report, the cases in London and the southeast of England occur “predominantly in gay, bisexual or men who have sex with men (MSM)” communities. Outbreaks in Portugal and Spain are also located in the gay community. The German Robert Koch Institute also calls on gay and bisexual men in particular to be vigilant.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), however, emphasizes that “anyone, regardless of sexual orientation, can spread monkeypox.” In contrast, the European health agency, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) calls on local health groups to raise the issue in “communities of people identifying as men who have sex with men, who have multiple sexual partners or who are having casual sex.”
Some voices have already started calling for a vaccination campaign. The ECDC recommends considering vaccination for high-risk close contacts. In the UK, health care staff are already being offered smallpox vaccines, and according to El País, the Spanish Ministry of Health is preparing to purchase thousands of vaccine doses to control the outbreak of monkeypox.
Monkeypox belongs to the same family as smallpox, but the disease is less deadly than smallpox. The mortality rate of the West African variant detected in Europe is less than 4%. Symptoms include fever and a distinct bumpy rash. The duration of the disease is usually between two and four weeks.