Anyone can get smallpox

The Pride in Amsterdam was almost cancelled, only men who have sex with men seem to have a chance of getting a vaccination and the first outbreak in Europe is said to have taken place at an ‘international gay festival’: Monkeypox*.

*The choice has been made to refer to the virus in the rest of the article as ‘the virus’ for lack of a better name. This is partly because of the stigmatizing effect of the name of the virus. The name is also not striking; the virus does not come from monkeys at all. On top of that, the term is even used in a racist way.

‘The virus mainly spreads within this group

A man from the US who stayed in a ‘gay resort‘ in Puerto Vallarta in the Mexican state of Jalisco fled a hospital there after being told he probably had the virus. The advice was that he should be quarantined. He had flown from Berlin to the Mexican coastal town. Before local authorities found him there after escaping from the hospital, he had already left for his home state of Texas. And so the first infections in both Jalisco and Texas are attributed to this one man. In the reporting on this, it is mentioned several times that the man stayed in a ‘gay resort’ and that the virus mainly spreads ‘within this group’. But is this focus on men who have sex with men (MSM) justified in the spread of the virus?

The fact that the virus is mainly seen as a virus that spreads among MSM is partly due to the fact that people think it is an STD. And that is not surprising when the website of the central government advises you to go to the soapoli if you show symptoms of the virus. Fortunately, the RIVM will send you to the GGD. But there too, the emphasis of infection and prevention is clearly on sexual contact. They do mention the contamination through skin-to-skin contact, but mainly in the context of sex.

Shoulder to shoulder in the supermarket

That while there are plenty of other ways in which your skin comes into contact with other people’s. When I go to the supermarket from work, I often stand shoulder to shoulder with other people who also quickly get their dinner at home. Yet I would by no means speak of an orgy at the Appie (despite it rolling off the tongue so easily you’d almost expect it to be a thing). And then we haven’t even mentioned an average night out at a bar or a club, whether the crowd is queer or not.

Now I hear you thinking: “But Hans, most cases of the virus have been detected in MSM, right?”. You can now think of the following context: LGBTQIA+ people, and therefore also MSM, are also the people who are most often at the GGD. And yes, that’s because they go to the soapoli more often. When you keep an eye on a group, there is a very good chance that you will find more in that group. This also applies, for example, to ethnic profiling by the police and white residents who regard BIPOC’s behavior as suspicious. As a result, they are arrested more often and crime among this group is therefore considered to be higher. While white people are especially less often suspected and therefore also caught. This has far-reaching consequences for BIPOC. In addition, LGBTQIA+ people of color are now also faced with prejudices about the virus.

Who really knows what the symptoms are?

LGBTQIA+ persons (and therefore MSM) visit the GGD more often. As a result, they are also better informed about the disease course of the virus. For example, I asked people via an Instagram poll if they knew what the symptoms of the virus are. These are, in addition to the smallpox itself: headache, fever, chills, fatigue, muscle aches and swollen lymph nodes. And you don’t necessarily have to deal with all the symptoms when you’re infected. So you can have the virus without the smallpox. Of the LGBTQIA+ people, 7 out of 10 knew that. Of the non-LGBTQIA+ people, 1 in 10 knew that. This was of course a very limited sample, but the differences between the two groups are very large.

This gives you a self-reinforcing effect. LGBTQIA+ people are better acquainted with the course of the disease, recognize the virus earlier and are tested more often. As a result, you subsequently have more reported infections within the LGBTQIA+ community. As a result, even more people in the community are aware of the virus. As a result, they are better acquainted with the course of the disease, and so it comes full circle. And this also works the other way. Non-LHBTQIA+ people read in mainstream media coverage that the virus is mainly spreading in the LGBTQIA+ community. That’s why they don’t worry. They don’t register. Subsequently, they are not familiar with the course of the disease. And thus they don’t know that they can get and pass on the virus without realizing it. This is something recognized by both the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Science journal.

Should we blame men who have sex with men for the virus? Should we thank them for finding the virus? Perhaps the answer lies between these extremes: we must present the situation objectively, without prejudice and with context.

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