Monkeypox is spreading in New York, making education urgent

Grindr, the social networking app, sent a pop-up message about the risk of smallpox in monkeys to millions of European and American users. A sex party organizer in New York asked those invited to self-examine for injuries before appearing. And the people celebrating the main Pride of the city posted a monkeypox announcement on Sunday on their Instagram account.

As hundreds of thousands of people gather in New York City and elsewhere to celebrate Pride Day this month, city and federal officials, health advocates and party organizers are rushing Dissemination of increasingly urgent health warnings about the risk of smallpox in monkeys.

“Know but don’t panic,” said Jason Cianciotto, vice president of communications and policy at Men’s Health Crisis.

The virus, which has long circulated in parts of Africa, is now spreading globally, and although it can infect anyone, it is spreading now, officials say mainly through networks of men who have sex with men.

Since May 13, when the first case in the outbreak was reported in Europe, more than 2,000 people in 35 countries outside of Africa have been diagnosed with the virus. As of Wednesday, there have been 16 cases identified in New York City, out of 84 cases nationwide. The most recent New York cases are not related to travel, indicating ongoing person-to-person transmission in New York City, the city’s health department said.

While the raw numbers are still low, epidemiologists are concerned because of the global level of transmission and because the cases are occurring without a clear link to each other, suggesting wider spread. The World Health Organization will meet next week to determine if monkeypox now qualifies as a global health emergency.

Monkey pox, so named because it was first discovered by European researchers in captive monkeys in 1958, can infect anyone, regardless of sex or age. or sexual orientation. Although it is mainly spread by direct contact with the lesion, it can also be spread through shared objects such as towels, as well as by droplets emitted when speaking, coughing, or sneezing.

Scientists believe it can also be transmitted through small aerosol particles, although that may require a long period of close contact. In general, this virus is less infectious than Covid-19.

WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said monkeypox has caused at least 72 deaths this year in African countries where the virus is endemic. Ghebreyesus, said Tuesday, but there have been no other deaths linked to the global outbreak outside of Africa.

The first 10 cases in New York were all detected in men between the ages of 27 and 50, and most were identified as men who had sex with men, following a global pattern, according to the city’s health department. city. Officials say most cases in New York result in mild symptoms, but even mild cases can cause an itchy and painful rash that lasts two to four weeks.

Public awareness of the outbreak, which has led to the need for more testing, is still in its early stages, and the virus sometimes causes only some lesions in the genital area, which can be difficult to distinguish. with other sexually transmitted diseases. Two vaccines, as well as antiviral drugs, are available, although currently the vaccine is mainly offered in the US for close contact with confirmed or suspected cases.

Health officials said the interviews were the perfect time to raise awareness among those in the LGBTQ community, who are most at risk, but also create a challenge for those looking to find ways. delivering a message about protecting the community without creating alarm or discrimination. More broadly, organizers and health officials do not want to interfere with Pride celebrations and their positive messages about sexual identity.

Working with advocates and partners in the LGBTQ community, federal and local health officials have in recent weeks begun creating social media posts, writing fact sheets and posting photos pox pictures to help people know what to look for.

Pride gatherings are also coming at a critical time, when there is still the possibility that aggressive public health actions can control monkeypox, but greater exposure during the celebrations has can create more disease spread, especially if people are not educated about the virus.

“We need people to step up their game, because if we’re going to contain it, we need a real total effort.,Gregg Gonsalves, a longtime AIDS activist and epidemiologist at the Yale School of Public Health, said in an interview. “We are walking the line between containment and persistent spread, and containment is better.”

Health officials’ focus right now is on providing information on how the disease is transmitted – primarily through skin-to-skin contact – and urging people to seek care if they develop a rash or feel sick. unwell. While the messages were targeted specifically to the gay and bisexual community, public health officials also emphasized that anyone can be infected.

While the current risk to the public remains low, it could increase if the virus establishes itself in the United States and other countries outside Africa, infecting more people, the WHO warned in a statement. a recent update. The organization is also working to change the name of the virus, which it admits may be increasing the stigma surrounding it.

However, many health experts warn that the public health message, now mostly online, must move faster, and that education alone will not be enough to contain the outbreak.

Dr. Carlos Del Rio, chair of the Department of Global Health at the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University and upcoming president of the Infectious Diseases Society of America.

“To prevent this, we have to move quickly,” he said. “I wish we could do more.”

Testing for the virus is still very rare in the United States. As of June 7, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had conducted 297 tests for orthopoxvirus, the family of viruses that causes monkeypox.

Public health experts warn that the CDC’s centralized approach may discourage testing more widely, creating a reverberation of testing that slowed the nation’s response to Covid-19 in February 2020.

The trial is currently going on in two phases: About 70 public health labs around the country are allowed to perform the initial orthopoxvirus PCR test, but the final diagnosis of monkeypox is made only by the CDC lab in Atlanta. Commercial labs are still unable to test for the virus. There is also no rapid or antigenic test for smallpox in monkeys, although a similar test could be developed, said Dr. Jay Varma, director of the Cornell Center for Pandemic Response and Prevention. with Covid.

Mark Harrington, executive director of the Treatment Action Group and a longtime AIDS activist, said: “It makes no sense to shed light on this, we’ve been arrested again for pandemics. global epidemic we weren’t prepared for, who urged improvements in testing at webinar on monkey pox held on Monday by the president of the borough of Manhattan.

Several aspects of the federal response have been praised by the LGBTQ community. For example, the CDC recently released a sex-positive fact sheet about social gatherings and safer sex that, instead of telling people to stay home, has specific advice to avoid Monkeypox like holding clothes during sex and not kissing.

“Some people are concerned that this is happening during the Pride era,” said Dr Demetre Daskalakis, director of HIV/AIDS Prevention at the CDC and the agency’s monkeypox response leader. . “I can’t Imagine a better time to get notifications about things like this. “

Men’s Health Crisis Foundation’s Cianciotto said this month’s parades and outdoor events are “not a place where the virus will spread”, so people shouldn’t be afraid to participate in them. “And for clubs that host parties with closer physical contact, or for those who prefer to be with others in an intimate way, they need information on what to look out for and how to do it. get help.”

Joseph Osmundson, a microbiologist at New York University who is part of a group of gay and heterosexual activists who regularly talk to decision-makers about responses.

He and other activists have also worked through their own channels to educate the LGBTQ community about the virus — for example, by crafting messages that sex party promoters can distributed to attendees, including photographs of smallpox lesions in monkeys.

Dr Osmundson said: “When I talk to my friends in the gay community, we want to intervene. “We don’t want smallpox in monkeys. Spaces where we meet for entertainment and companionship, we don’t want those spaces closed, number one. And we like to go into those spaces with as little anxiety and as little risk as possible.”

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