A World Health Organization (WHO) adviser said on Monday that people should not change their plans to attend pride parades next month amid the increased circulation of monkeypox.
“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.
WHO experts have pointed to sex at two recent raves in Europe as the leading theory for the spread of the virus, which is endemic in areas of Africa. The agency has said several cases have been reported among men who have sex with men, but cautioned it may be a reflection of “positive health seeking behavior” in that demographic, given that the cases were identified at sexual health clinics.
Seale said at Monday’s public briefing that the organization has linked cases to a number of “social events” in European countries.
“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.”
WHO released public health guidance on monkeypox last week specifically for men who have sex with men. Asked about similarities between the focus on LGBT people in the recent monkeypox outbreak and the HIV epidemic, Seale said WHO has a “lot of lessons learned” from dealing with HIV messaging for years.
“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.”
UNAIDS earlier this month denounced monkeypox reporting that included “homophobic and racist stereotyping.”
“It’s challenging to calibrate this, to balance the risk messaging and not unintentionally contributing to stigma,” Seale said.
Seale said close bodily contact is the main risk factor for monkeypox, so condoms will not provide protection. Seale noted that pride parades were not a particular concern because they happen outdoors, while monkeypox has recently been linked to nightclubs and other indoor settings.
“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.
WHO has reported 257 confirmed monkeypox cases and about 120 suspected cases from 23 countries where the virus is not endemic. The international health group said it was not aware of any deaths caused by the virus’ increased spread.
The virus, which first presents symptoms like swollen lymph nodes and fever but later causes lesions, is related to but less deadly than smallpox. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests the smallpox vaccine is at least 85 percent effective against monkeypox, and the agency has released some doses in response to the outbreak.
Monkeypox spreads through close contact with an infected animal or person, generally through lesions, body fluids, contaminated materials and respiratory droplets, which can only travel a few feet.