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Monkeypox: What the LGBTQ+ Community Needs to Know

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is currently warning the public – gay and bisexual men in particular – about a worldwide outbreak of monkeypox. There are currently over 450 confirmed cases in the United States, and over 30 in Los Angeles County.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the Biden administration’s top adviser on infectious diseases, said in a White House briefing on June 1 that recent monkeypox cases are “heavily weighted” towards gay and bisexual men. However, monkeypox is not a “gay disease”. Anyone of any sexuality can contract the disease, as it is transmitted from one person to another by physical contact with skin lesions, body fluids, respiratory droplets, and contaminated materials. Heterosexual people, women, transgender and nonbinary people, and others are also at potential risk of monkeypox.

The information below is intended to help prevent you from getting or spreading the virus. Please share this information with your friends and loved ones so that we can all be prepared as monkeypox continues to spread.

What is monkeypox?
Monkeypox is a disease that is caused by infection with monkeypox virus. The virus is normally found in central and western African countries, but there have been outbreaks in other parts of the world. While monkeypox can be fatal in a small percentage of cases, no one is known to have died from the current outbreak.

How is monkeypox spread?
Monkeypox is spread through close, often skin-to-skin contact such as direct contact with infectious sores or body fluids (currently the most common way), or contact with materials (clothing, bedding, or towels) that have been used by someone with monkeypox. Respiratory spread is possible during prolonged face-to-face contact, but this does not appear to occur very often. The CDC is still trying to determine if the virus can spread when someone has no symptoms or be present in semen or vaginal fluids.

What are the symptoms?
Monkeypox symptoms usually appear between 5 to 21 days after exposure. Most people with monkeypox will get a rash or sores – often located on or near the genitals or anus, but sometimes in other areas like the hands, feet, chest, or face. Sores may also appear inside the body, including the mouth, vagina, or anus. The CDC reports that other symptoms like fever, headache, fatigue, and swollen lymph nodes do not always occur before the rash and may not occur at all. Monkeypox can be spread from the time symptoms start until all sores, including scabs, have healed and a fresh layer of skin has formed – this can take several weeks.

What should I do if I have a new or unexplained rash, sores, or other symptoms?
If you experience any of these symptoms, contact your health care provider immediately. Don’t hesitate to advocate for your health and inform your provider of your concerns if you think you may have been exposed. Avoid sex or being intimate with anyone until you have been checked out by a health care provider and take a break from going out to bars, clubs, and other events – especially if they involve close, skin-to-skin contact.

How can I protect myself at crowded places like raves, parties, clubs, and festivals?
Before attending, think about whether close, skin-to-skin contact is likely to occur at the event.

  • If you feel sick or have any rashes or sores, do not attend and contact your health care provider immediately.
  • Events where people are fully clothed and unlikely to share skin-to-skin contact are safer.
  • If there is minimal clothing and skin-to-skin contact at the event, try to avoid any rashes or sores you see on others and minimize skin-to-skin contact when possible.
  • Enclosed spaces, such as back rooms, saunas, or sex clubs, where there is minimal or no clothing and where intimate sexual contact occurs have a higher likelihood of spreading monkeypox.

How can I lower my risk of getting monkeypox during sex?
Talk to your partner about any recent illness and be aware of new or unexplained sores or rashes on your body or your partner’s body, including the genitals and anus.

  • If you or your partner have recently been sick, currently feel sick, or have a new or an unexplained rash or sores, do not have sex and see a health care provider immediately.
  • If you or your partner have (or think you might have) monkeypox, the best way to protect yourself and others is to not have sex of any kind (oral, anal, vaginal) and not kiss or touch each other’s bodies while you are sick, especially any rash or sores. Do not share things like towels, fetish gear, sex toys, and toothbrushes. Consider virtual sex and reduce skin-to-skin contact as much as possible.
  • The CDC gives further advice on staying free of monkeypox here.

Is there a vaccine to prevent monkeypox?
There are two vaccines to prevent monkeypox, but unlike many other vaccines, they are held only in the National Strategic Stockpile. These vaccines have not been made available to APLA Health & Wellness at this point. The White House has developed a strategy to increase vaccine supply as soon as possible. Vaccines are distributed only to local government agencies, such as the LA County Department of Public Health. We are hopeful that the supply of vaccine will increase very soon.

APLA Health is in close communication with the LA County Department of Public Health about vaccine access. We will continuously update this website with up-to-date information about vaccine availability as the situation unfolds. As of now, APLA Health does not have access to vaccine.

Where can I learn more?
As more information becomes available, APLA Health will update this page. You can also check out additional information from the CDC, the California Department of Public Health, and the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. Building Healthy Online Communities has resources available in both English and Spanish.