New WHO monkeypox advice urges men who have sex with men to limit their partners

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The head of the World Health Organization has recommended that men who have sex with men temporarily limit the number of sexual partners they have as cases of monkeypox continue to rise in their communities – a reversal from the global health agency’s announcement just days after raising its levels. danger signal rate of monkeypox.

WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus gave comments At a briefing on Wednesday, he said 98 percent of monkeypox cases have been reported in men who have sex with men.

Tedros said “this epidemic can be stopped” if governments take appropriate measures and people stay informed and protect themselves from the virus.

“For men who have sex with men, this includes reducing your number of sexual partners, reconsidering sex with new partners and exchanging contact information with all new partners for follow-up if necessary,” Tedros said.

Since monkeypox was first reported by the WHO in May, public health officials have struggled to balance the need to educate the public most likely to experience the infection — men who have sex with men, including gay and bisexual men. stigmatizing members of that community or implying that monkeypox only affects men who have sex with men.

“Anyone can get monkeypox,” Tedros said on Wednesday, urging countries to “reduce the risk of infection to other vulnerable groups, including children, pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems.”

However, as it became clear that monkeypox is more common among men who have sex with men, there have been increasing calls for health authorities and governments to provide specific outreach to members of this community.

What to know about monkeypox symptoms, treatment and prevention

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), monkeypox is spread through close physical contact between people, but it can also be transmitted from a pregnant person to the fetus through the placenta and by contact with clothing and other objects. Symptoms of a monkeypox infection include fever, muscle aches, and a rash or blisters that look like chickenpox.

More than 18,000 cases of monkeypox have been reported to the World Health Organization from 78 countries, but the majority of cases have been in Europe, the epicenter of the epidemic. Five of them were fatal, WHO said.

As of July 2022, more than 18,000 cases of monkeypox have been reported in more than 70 countries. Here’s what you need to know about how it spreads. (Video: Joy Yee, Fenit Nirappil/The Washington Post, Photo: CDC/The Washington Post)

More than 4,600 monkeypox infections have been reported in the United States, where President Biden is considering whether to declare the outbreak a public health emergency.

For its part, the WHO declared monkeypox a “public health emergency of international concern” — its highest threat — at the weekend, after an emergency committee convened by the world health body declined to recommend the WHO take such a step last month.

WHO chief Tedros said he made the final call on Saturday after committee members argued over whether a declaration of high alert was warranted. Lack of evidence that smallpox was spreading in the general population was one of the reasons for the reluctance.

Although monkeypox in this epidemic was mostly spread among men who have sex with men, it has been endemic outside the community in West and Central African countries for decades. According to The Washington Post, experts believe the latest outbreak may have spread primarily through gay social media and places frequented by men who have sex with men, including European saunas and festivals.

The WHO has declared monkeypox a global health emergency as infections continue to rise

The monkeypox outbreak has highlighted the disparities in access to health care for gay and bisexual men in the United States, where vaccines and providers who can administer antiviral treatment are in short supply.

As the nation’s health care system struggles to respond, many experts recall the public health response to the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, when gay men were scapegoated and died in large numbers from the disease before effective treatments were available.

“Experience shows that stigmatizing rhetoric quickly shuts down evidence-based responses by fueling cycles of fear, driving people away from health services, impeding case-finding efforts, and encouraging ineffective, punitive measures,” said Matthew Kavanagh, Joint Deputy Executive Director. In May, the United Nations HIV/AIDS Program called for caution when communicating with monkeypox.

The fight to protect gay and bisexual men from monkeypox has exposed inequality

Regarding public health messages about monkeypox for gay and bisexual men, the CDC said, “It’s important to reach disproportionately affected communities with sound, fact-based messages about monkeypox that give people the tools they can use to protect themselves. etc.”

Tedros, whose recommendations on Wednesday appeared clearer than previous WHO guidance, said an effective response to the epidemic must empower “the community of men who have sex with men to reduce the risk of infection and further transmission.” But the response must be framed in a way that “protects human rights and dignity,” he said.

“Stigma and discrimination, like any virus, can be dangerous and can fuel an epidemic,” he added.

Fenit Nirapil contributed to this report.

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