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Don’t shun Pride parades because of monkeypox, says WHO

Two men hold hands in front of a rainbow flag
(Photo: Shutterstock)

The number of monkeypox cases around the world continues to rise, prompting an adviser at the World Health Organization (WHO) to comment on the upcoming Pride season.

So far, gay and bisexual men appear to have been disproportionately impacted by the outbreak. Monkeypox is not regarded as a sexually-transmitted infection, but it can be spread by close, skin-to-skin contact, or via bedding and clothing.

Yesterday, a WHO official said the outbreak should not impact Pride season or put people off from attending parades.

Although the outbreak in some countries has been linked to some festivals, this is not a virus that spreads as easily as Covid.

Related: Is Walmart really selling “twink-flavored” ice cream for Pride?

“It’s important that people who want to go out and celebrate gay pride, LGBTQ+ pride, to continue to go and plan to do so,” said Andy Seale, a strategies adviser in the WHO Department of Global HIV, Hepatitis and Sexually Transmitted Infections Programmes, at a press briefing.

“There is no specific transmission route that we need to be worried about,” he said. “It really is connected to the fact there have been a couple of events that have perhaps amplified the current outbreak.”

Seale also wanted to downplay reporting that framed the monkeypox outbreak as a disease impacting just gay men.

“Given this is not a gay disease, the transmission routes are common to everybody,” Seale said. “The advice is pretty much the same for all people.”

Seale said that pride parades are usually outdoors, while monkeypox transmission has more recently been linked to indoor events and nightclubs.

“We don’t see any real reason to be concerned about enhanced likelihood of transmission in those contexts, because the parties that we’ve been referring to have perhaps been more in enclosed spaces,” he said.

Related: Monkeypox: Third suspected case in U.S. investigated in Fort Lauderdale

At the time of writing, 14 cases of monkeypox have now been identified across eight states in the US. Over the weekend, two were identified in California, one in Colorado, and one in New York.

Of the two cases in California, health officials said the second was a “close contact” of the first, who had been diagnosed three days earlier. This suggests a case of human-to-human transmission.

Worldwide, monkeypox has now been identified in 24 countries outside of West and Central Africa (where cases are normally located). The worst-hit country appears to be the UK, which has now diagnosed 179 cases in the past few weeks.

This has prompted UK health officials to issue sex advice to those impacted. People who have tested positive for the virus and their close contacts are being told to isolate at home for 21 days.

They should avoid contact with other people until all lesions—or blisters—have healed and scabs have dried off. Anyone with a confirmed infection is also now being advised to abstain from sex while they have symptoms.

Although not endorsed by the World Health Organization, the guidance also says, “Whilst there is currently no available evidence of monkeypox in genital excretions, as a precaution, cases are advised to use condoms for 8 weeks after infection and this guidance will be updated as evidence emerges.”

What is monkeypox?

Monkeypox is caused by a virus similar to smallpox. Early symptoms include fever, headache, muscle aches, backache, swollen lymph nodes, chills and exhaustion.

It will often be accompanied by a chickenpox-like rash, with lesions tending to eventually scab over and fall off.

Monkeypox lesions
Monkeypox lesions (Photo: UK Health Security Agency)

It’s usually a mild, self-limiting illness, and most people will recover within weeks. However, the deadliest variant of the virus can be fatal for up to one in ten of those infected.

The form of the virus currently circulating is believed to be milder, with a fatality rate of less than 1 percent.