There’s a new health crisis putting LGBT people at risk: Monkeypox.
As of this writing, there are only eight confirmed or presumed cases in the U.S., with two of them in South Florida.
On May 22 the Florida Department of Health in Broward County (DOH-Broward) announced the presumptive diagnosis is related to a patient who was involved in international travel. DOH-Broward said that person is in isolation.
Monkeypox is similar to smallpox, and the smallpox vaccine is likely to provide cross-protection. Smallpox was nearly eradicated by the early 1970s, and people younger than 50 may not have the vaccine. The U.S. is preparing to release supplies of a two-dose vaccine designed to prevent smallpox and monkeypox. They will be made available to patients considered high risk.
Though monkeypox isn’t a sexually transmitted disease, it is spread through close, intimate contact. The CDC said it can also spread through contact with infected bedding or clothes. The CDC’s Dr. John Brooks said clusters of patients are popping up around the world, and seem to be disproportionately affecting gay and bisexual men.
Lesions are appearing in the genital areas, and can easily be mistaken for other STIs, including herpes, syphilis or chickenpox.
“Anyone with a rash or lesion around or involving their genitals, anus or any other place that they have not seen it before, should be fully evaluated, both for that rash but particularly for sexually transmitted infection and other illnesses that can cause rash,” Brooks said.
The incubation period can be up to two weeks. Symptoms usually mimic the flu and usually precede a rash. However, this latest outbreak is seeing the rash sometimes appear first. Belgium has instituted a 21-day quarantine for patients. That country, along with Spain, could be where the outbreak began. Health officials say sex at raves in those countries could be the source of original infections.
This is just the latest health crisis for South Florida’s LGBT community. Earlier this year a virulent strain of meningitis was spotted and resulted in an urgent push for people to get vaccinated. That will not be the case for this health scare. Only 1,000 doses are currently available in America, and those are being given sparingly.
A second vaccine exists but comes with harsh side effects. The CDC said it will review the urgency of the crisis when considering its use.