There is a lot of fear and misinformation around the monkeypox outbreak in Broward County, which is disproportionately affecting the gay and bisexual community.
To help get the word out, the Pride Center and Our Fund Foundation hosted a town hall with a panel of experts. Margaret Gorensek, M.D., is an infectious disease specialist at Holy Cross. She was joined by Dr. Frank Vittimberga, the Chief Medical Officer at Florida Medical Center, and AHF’s Dr. Zachary Henry.
The focus was on making sure people know how it’s spread and how it’s treated. After 2+ years of the pandemic, many are comparing it to COVID. Monkeypox is much different. The panel said it’s incredibly difficult and rare for monkeypox to be transmitted by water droplets. The virus is spread through skin-on-skin contact, when an infected person has lesions that look like a rash. The doctors said it takes up to three weeks for the rash to appear, and that’s when a patient is contagious. Often, flu-like symptoms accompany the rash.
Monkeypox was first seen in Africa in the 1950s and rarely is seen outside that part of the world. Several European countries are seeing their first cases ever with this outbreak. The reason it’s affecting the gay and bisexual community this time is that it’s been traced back to an MSM (men who have sex with men) who went to Nigeria and then attended a circuit party in Spain. So far only about 100 cases have been diagnosed in the U.S., with about 10 in South Florida. All but one has been MSM.
There was an outbreak about 20 years ago and that mainly affected the heterosexual population.
Diagnosing & Preventing
Dr. Vittimberga said you should inspect your sexual partner for signs of a rash, including places that aren’t easily visible, like the genital area and rectum. He said the WHO is also finding it in semen, so condoms are recommended. Unlike COVID, being in large crowds, like at Pride or a concert, isn’t dangerous. But if you’re dancing shirtless next to people or hanging out in dark areas of bars, the risk is much higher.
People who have had the smallpox vaccine are immune, but most people under 50 didn’t get the vaccine as a kid. Unlike COVID, a person can’t just walk into a clinic and get a shot. There is a vaccine for monkeypox, but there is only enough for about 1,200 patients.
“Right now, it’s only for people who have come in contact with a confirmed case,” Dr. Henry said. “It is administered as a means of [prevention] so that person doesn’t end up becoming infected.”
The Biden administration has placed a standby order for a million doses if this outbreak gets bigger.
While there is still a relatively low number of patients in Broward, one of them was diagnosed by Dr. Henry. He said the patient thought he had an STI. Dr. Henry, already on alert, recognized the problem immediately. The health department sent over testing kits and the diagnosis was confirmed. The patient, like most people with monkeypox, is expected to recover.
About 3% of people with monkeypox die. Most have very mild issues. Patients with extremely compromised immune systems are at the highest risk of complications. People are contagious until all sores have scabbed over and fallen off.
The virus can also survive on surfaces outside the body. If you are using public facilities like toilets or gym equipment, it’s recommended to wipe them down before using them.
The Pride Center’s Kristofer Fegenbush moderated the panel, and said the purpose is to raise awareness in people who may not be paying attention and hopes attendees will spread the word.
“The event doesn’t produce protection for the community. Education, information, and equipping people with the resources they need. It really is about education and information.”
If you think you have monkeypox, see a doctor immediately. If you have issues getting quick medical care, call (954) 270-8905.