Original article (in Serbian) was published on 25/05/2022
Some media in Serbia, but also in the world, seem to have welcomed the opportunity to use the current epidemic of monkeypox to spread homophobia. Considering that a significant number of patients who have been infected with this virus in the world come from the gay community, tabloids such as Kurir and Informer, but also Vojvodina’s public service RTV published homophobic headlines that imply it is a “gay disease” and that people of different sexul orientation have no particular chance of becoming infected. Apart from being incorrect, this can also be very dangerous.
“A WARNING from the WHO: MONKEYPOX ARE TRANSMITTED THROUGH A GAY INTERCOURSE!”, The tabloid Kurir manipulatively reports the announcement of the World Health Organization.
Namely, the WHO stated that a certain number of infected people really belong to the LGBT community, but they specified that neither this population is the only endangered nor sexual intercourse is the only way to transmit the infection. In other words, monkeypox can affect anyone, including other household members of the infected person, health workers and others who come in contact with the infected person’s skin and mucous membrane, contaminated objects and respiratory droplets.
However, Kurir does not mention any of that and uses the situation to note that monkeypox is not dangerous but that “it can affect marriage if the husband gets it” because that would mean that “the husband has bisexual tendencies and hides it from the wife”.
Informer also had exclusive claims with the text: “MONKEYPOX RUN THE WORLD, AND NOW IT HAS BEEN DISCOVERED WHICH GROUP IS PRONE TO IT!?”, from which it can also be wrongly concluded that people from the LGBT population are the only ones susceptible to this virus.
A more perfidious headline was also published by the Radio-Television of Vojvodina, the provincial public service: “Don’t panic: Mostly homosexuals get infected with monkeypox”.
The public service says that heterosexual people have no reason to panic, that is, they cannot get sick, which is not true. In addition, the homophobic title indicates that “homosexuals” are a second-class category of citizens, so their illness with monkeypox is not so worrying.
The title of this text, published on May 22, has since been changed without explanation and is now entitled “Sekler: Monkeypox is usually a mild viral disease”.
These media articles were condemned by the Independent Association of Journalists of Serbia (NUNS), saying that it targets certain groups, thus causing them harm and also disturbs public health.
“Such media coverage is very reminiscent of HIV reporting during the 1980s and poses a real danger of increasing stigma towards the LGBTQ+ community”, the NUNS said.
Similar stigmatizing claims have emerged worldwide, to which the World Health Organization, the American Center for Disease Control and Prevention, and the United Nations have drawn attention.
What is the truth? So far, according to the latest WHO data from May 24, 157 cases of infection have been confirmed in 19 countries in Europe, the United States and Australia, where the virus is not endemic (an endemic disease is specific to an area – in this case, it is Central and West Africa).
How the infection spread has not yet been definitively determined, and no statistics have been published regarding gender or sexual orientation.
However, the WHO notes that several cases have been reported in the LGBT population.
“Some cases have been identified in sexual health clinics in gay and bisexual men (…) It is important to say that the risk of monkeypox is not limited to men who have sex with other men. Anyone who has close contact with an infected person is at risk”, the WHO stated.
These people went to sexual health clinics because the rash often appears first in the genital area and can resemble sexually transmitted diseases such as herpes and syphilis.
It is currently unknown whether the virus can be transmitted by body fluids (semen and vaginal), but it is known to be definitely transmitted by “direct contact with lesions (changes in the tissue of the infected) during sexual activity”, whether lesions on the skin or mucous membranes of an infected person.
In addition to sexually transmitted, the infection is possible in other ways – through larger respiratory droplets, by coming in contact with lesions and rashes, or through contaminated items such as bedding or cutlery. Therefore, household members of the infected person, as well as health workers, are at risk.
Read more about symptoms and prevention here.
All this means that homosexuals are not the only ones who can get infected, nor can it happen exclusively through sexual intercourse, as Kurir and RTV suggest.
“First, anyone who has close physical contact of any kind with an infected person is at risk, regardless of who he is, what he does, with whom he chooses to have sexual relations or any other factors. Second, stigmatizing people based on disease is unacceptable. Stigma will only make things worse and prevent us from stopping this epidemic as soon as possible”, the WHO stated.
Warnings about the stigmatization of the gay population also came from the American Center for Disease Control and Prevention. American CNN reports the words of epidemiologist John Brooks, who leads the HIV prevention team at this center, and who notes that, according to their data, there is a “noticeable number of cases” among gay and bisexual men, but that they are not the only ones.
“Some groups may have a better chance of being exposed right now, but that does not mean that the current risk of exposure to monkeypox exists only in this community in the United States. Anyone can develop and spread the infection (…)”, he stated.
UNAIDS, the United Nations program to fight HIV, also warned of the spread of homophobia and racial stereotypes toward people from the African continent.
The monkeypox virus, by the way, is not new or unknown, and this is not the first time it has spread. From the time it was first registered in Congo in 1970, until the beginning of the 2000s, it was limited to the area of Africa. Then it appeared in the United States, and during the previous almost five and a half years (from 2017 to April 2022), a total of 241 cases were recorded in countries around the world, of which eight people died. The current spread is the most numerous so far, with 157 cases registered from 13 to 24 May.
The disease can last for about a month, and the mortality rate in recent times (thanks to vaccination) is relatively low and ranges from 3 to 6 percent.