Monkey pox data shows a disproportionate cost to the LGBTQ community

Monkey disease is spreading rapidly in California, and the virus is disproportionately affecting gay and bisexual men, according to new data released Friday by the state Department of Health.

The figures show that among cases with available data, 91.7% of patients who tested positive for monkeypox were gay and 5.6% were bisexual; Men account for more than 98% of all cases. Transgender and gender non-binary people account for 1% of cases.

Although it has been known for weeks that the virus is spreading rapidly through LGBTQ social networks, the state has not previously released such data on the infection.

LGBTQ advocates say the release of the data will help bolster their demands for faster federal and state response. Showing the severity of the epidemic in the gay and trans community can also inform how the state distributes vaccines, organizes public education campaigns and other relief efforts.

“Knowing who is sick and which groups are disproportionately affected is critical because it helps public health,” the state senator said. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco. “Without such data, we are flying blind in terms of public health response.”

The California data included demographic information about the sexual orientation of about 70% of the 786 patients who tested positive statewide. No such information is available for other patients who tested positive.

It also shows that the virus has a disproportionate impact across races and generations.

Hispanic or Latino people account for nearly 36% of infections, but according to available data by race and ethnicity, they make up less than 19% of the population. As a percentage of the state’s population, this means that Latinos are three times more likely than whites, 3.2 cases per 100,000 residents, compared to 1.2 cases for whites.

Almost 75% of infections were among people aged 25 to 44 years. Health officials say the infection is spreading most rapidly among people who have had recent sexual partners.

The numbers show Los Angeles has seen the most cases, with 261, followed by San Francisco with 257.

State officials released the information a day after San Francisco declared a public health emergency in response to an increase in the spread of the virus. At least 281 people in the city have been infected with monkeypox, but many cases may go undiagnosed due to the lack of testing and the lack of knowledge of the virus among many health workers.

The crisis has been exacerbated by the lack of available vaccines. So far, city officials say they have received about 8,200 doses of the Jynneos vaccine, which is aimed at preventing monkeypox and smallpox in adults. City officials estimate they need 70,000 doses.

Friday’s release of monkeypox data is significant for the LGBTQ community because it is the first time the state has released such data in response to the early stages of a public health crisis.

In 2020, state lawmakers passed a law that would require the state to ask patients about their sexual orientation and gender identity when they are tested for potential exposure to infectious diseases. California already collects data on race, age and sex for patients tested for more than 90 infectious diseases. Patients may refuse to answer the question.

Wiener introduced SB932 in response to the state’s lack of awareness of the cost of COVID-19 in the community. He said it aims to end the decades of neglect of LGBTQ people in government responses to health crises.

California has been collecting data on LGBTQ people infected with monkeypox for several weeks, but state officials have so far refused to release the data. The Department of Public Health told The Chronicle earlier this week it had not released it “due to patient confidentiality.” There has been debate within the LGBTQ community about whether such information stigmatizes people.

Monkey pox in the Bay Area

On Friday, the head of the Department of Public Health, Thomas Aragon, said his team is committed to fighting the stigma against the LGBTQ community.

“No individual or community is to blame for the spread of any virus,” he told reporters during a press conference. “Monkey pox can affect anyone and is spread through skin-to-skin contact, as well as sharing items such as clothing, bedding and towels.”

Wiener, who is gay, said he strongly disagrees with the argument that releasing demographic data about communities affected by monkeypox is harmful.

“It’s just ridiculous and it creates the perception that being gay is a private thing that we shouldn’t talk about in public,” he said. “We want information. We want to know what is happening in our society.’

Gay and transgender advocates have widely criticized what they say has been a lackluster federal and state response to the monkeypox. Many have likened the situation to the early days of the AIDS pandemic, when tens of thousands of gay and bisexual men died because the government ignored the spread of the virus.

LGBTQ leaders have called on the state and federal governments to declare a public health emergency in response to the monkeypox, which would allow access to funds to fight the virus and raise public awareness.

While California has no plans to declare a statewide emergency, Aragon said Friday that the state will “continue to review everything” as the virus spreads. He said the state’s COVID response systems have made it easier to handle monkeypox and do things like create vaccine registries.

“We are carefully considering whether to formally declare a state of emergency and what additional powers or resources to mobilize,” Aragon said. “We’re in a much better position to deal with monkeypox than we were two years ago.”

Wiener and other Democratic state lawmakers are pushing a budget bill to increase the state’s testing, vaccination and contact tracing efforts. They have it too asked for a federal permit spending some of the funds associated with COVID to fight monkey pox.

San Francisco Mayor London Breed declared a state of emergency on Monday. Breed said the move “allows us to continue to support our most vulnerable groups, while better preparing for what lies ahead.”

Monkeypox usually causes flu-like symptoms, including a rash and tight, fluid-filled sores. The virus is transmitted through intimate contact, including sex and kissing. It can also be spread by sharing bedding or clothing, or by breathing in close quarters. Although many cases resolve on their own, monkeypox can be very painful and, in rare cases, can cause severe disease.

Dustin Gardiner and Yoohyun Jung of the San Francisco Chronicle. Email:, Twitter: @dustingardiner@@yoohyun_jung

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