There have been many failures in America’s efforts to stop the spread of the monkeypox epidemic.
Vaccine stocks were not released, bureaucratic production was halted, distribution was chaotic, treatment was almost impossible to obtain (again due to government bureaucracy), and doctors were misinformed, leaving many patients ill. diverted or misdiagnosed.
In short, it was a very familiar mess. But there’s one part of this fiasco that hasn’t been widely discussed: We don’t call the virus by the right name.
This is not monkey pox. This is orthopox. And here’s why it matters.
1. This is wrong.
In 1958, Danish scientists discovered a new type of orthopoxvirus. They called it “monkey pox” because they found it in laboratory primates. However, in nature, the virus is not spread among monkeys, but among rodents (“dormitory, chipmunks, and marsupial rats”). The New Yorker). Therefore, for decades it was largely limited to animals, hunters, and humans bitten by Americans who came into contact with desert dogs infected in 2003, who in turn acquired the virus from possum rats imported from Ghana.
Now, if it was just a mistake, it wouldn’t matter so much. But this is also a mistake with very unfortunate consequences.
2. Monkeys from Africa? A horse.
First, as monkeypox spreads through broad sections of the US population—which it almost certainly will—we hear racist, nationalistic associations of the virus with “foreigners” and the countries from which it originated. Because of this, characterizing it as a nasty monkey-carried disease from Africa is problematic, to say the least.
Associations of black and/or African people with monkeys, apes, etc. are among the most disgusting parts of American racism. They are full of pseudo-science about genetic differences between “races” and the inferiority of dark-skinned people to light-skinned people. The potential to denigrate Africa, black bodies, and people of color is huge and obvious.
Am I exaggerating here? I do not think so. We witnessed the same dynamic in the 1980s with respect to AIDS, which first appeared in humans in the 1920s, in a Congolese colonial city called Leopoldville, now Kinshasa.
Even before this fact was definitively established, racist characterizations of African sexuality appeared in the American mainstream press, fueling long-standing harmful myths of Africa (the “dark continent”) as a place of barbarism and disease. (Dark-skinned Haitians were further stigmatized as carriers of the disease.) Much of this rhetoric echoes the 19th-century hysteria over African “venereal diseases,” revived by Republican outrage over President Barack Obama’s efforts to contain the Ebola virus. It was a major issue in the 2014 midterm elections.
We are now in danger of a similar process. As we saw in the early use of the phrase “Wuhan coronavirus” in 2020, it’s easy for xenophobes and demagogues to use terminology that angers their nationalist base and “otherizes” the disease. Fortunately, no one is calling it “Central African Monkey Pox” (yet), but it may only be a matter of time before some reactionary circles adopt the phrase.
Now again, if the term “monkey pox” really does represent some biological reality, some might argue that we’re stuck with it. But not so; the term is imprecise. It is steeped in racist associations and colonial history and should be trashed.
“…as monkeypox spreads among broad swaths of the US population, it’s almost inevitable that we’ll hear the familiar racist, nationalistic associations of this virus with “foreigners” and the countries from which it originated. “
3. Stigmatization of disease does not help public health.
There is also no benefit in associating an infectious disease with an animal, especially when it is spread in part through sexual activity, especially when that sexual activity is as stigmatized as gay sex.
Currently, Dr. According to Anthony Fauci, as of July 26, more than 3,500 cases of orthopox in the United States are “about 99 percent of men who have sex with men.” We’ll see how long it lasts—unlike HIV, orthopax must be transmissible in heterosexuals (you can get it from cuddling, massage, sharing sheets, or intimate dancing; no bodily fluids required) and can jump to intimacy. direct communities soon.
However, today, the disease is a common disease among sexually active gay men, and it reinforces the stigma attached to what we call “monkey pox.”
This is also true in the gay community. Anecdotally, all my gay friends talk about this threat and take it very seriously. But the name “monkey pox” doesn’t help — it associates the virus with “animalistic” behavior. It is a shame. Ironically, most of us call it smallpox or mpox. No one wants to be called a monkey.
This is especially true at this historical moment, as the LGBTQ community sees our hard-fought equality slowly erode. Forgive us for feeling a bit of unnecessary déjà vu as a new disease scares us while Republican politicians love us child molesters and deny the dignity of our intimate relationships.
More broadly, to the extent that shame and stigma deter people of any background or identity from seeking testing or treatment, they contribute to the spread of disease. After 28 months of COVID, it will be difficult to get people to care about this new threat. Making it a gay disease with a derogatory name doesn’t help.
Of course, language is not the only or even the main factor in this struggle. After failing to stop the spread of the virus, public health agencies must now move it forward, and that means greater access to education, vaccinations, testing and treatment.
But in doing so, let’s not stir up images of racism, homophobia, and stigma for nothing.
Let’s call the virus what it is: orthopox.