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Spanish LGBTQ groups shy away from monkeypox stigma as Pride draws near

MADRID – With one of Europe’s biggest gay pride celebrations just around the corner, Spain’s LGBTQ community is concerned that the outbreak of monkeypox on the continent could lead to a surge in homophobic sentiment due to misunderstandings about the disease.

Spanish health authorities said on Thursday there are now 84 confirmed cases in the country, the highest number in Europe. They focused their investigations on links between a gay pride event in the Canary Islands, which drew around 80,000 people in early May, and cases involving a sauna in Madrid.

However, some people, particularly gay and bisexual men, believe that the general public’s response to the rare outbreak of the disease outside of Africa, where it has long been endemic, has a tinge of homophobic hysteria.

Most known cases in Europe have involved men who have had sex with men, according to authorities in the UK, Spain, Germany and Portugal. A senior adviser to the World Health Organization said the outbreak was likely triggered by sexual activity at two recent mass gatherings in Europe.

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The outbreak in Spain comes ahead of the Gay Pride celebrations in Madrid, which will take place in early July. It is expected to draw large crowds in contrast to the past two years’ events, which have been scaled down or canceled due to COVID-19 restrictions. Organizers say the city’s last pre-pandemic Pride celebration in 2019 drew about 1.6 million revelers, although police put the number at about 400,000.

“Pride is a huge party, it’s a moment to make our voice heard, it brings a lot of people together,” Mario Blázquez, coordinator of health programs for the LGBTQ group COGAM in Madrid, told The Associated Press.

Blázquez said he was concerned that next month’s Pride celebrations could be jeopardized by overzealous restrictions based partly on prejudice and partly on fears of another public health emergency on top of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen. We do not know what the level of transmission of the virus will be or what legal action might be taken. And what stigma could then be created by these sometimes discriminatory legal measures.”

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So far, the Spanish authorities have not mentioned sweeping public health measures that would hamper large gatherings.

But beyond the Pride march, Blázquez said he was concerned society might make the same mistake it made when the HIV/AIDS crisis began in the 1980s, when the focus on the disease among gay men was causing its spread to the wider population veiled.

“This is a disease that any member of the population can get,” Blázquez said. “We are facing an outbreak that has sadly once again hit LGBTQ people and gay and bisexual men in particular. What is happening is somewhat similar to the first HIV cases.”

Health authorities in Europe, North America, Israel and Australia have identified more than 150 cases of the disease in recent weeks. It’s a surprising outbreak of a disease rarely seen outside of Africa, where it has posed a serious public health threat since the first human cases were discovered in the 1970s.

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Experts say anyone can become infected through close contact with a sick person, their clothing, or bedding. Most people recover within two to four weeks without requiring hospitalization. However, WHO says that recently 3-6% of cases have been fatal.

Health officials around the world are on the lookout for more cases as the disease appears to be spreading for the first time among people who haven’t traveled to Africa. However, they emphasize that the risk to the general population is low.

As of Thursday, Italy had confirmed 10 cases of monkeypox, some but not all in people who had traveled to Spain’s Canary Islands.

“Regarding the issue of sexual transmission, I believe that we cannot yet strictly define this as a sexually transmitted disease,” said Dr. Andrea Antinori, Director of Viral Immunodeficiencies at the Spallanzani Hospital in Rome.

“So at the moment I would avoid identifying this disease as a sexually transmitted disease and, more importantly, identifying the population – the men who have sex with men – as carriers of this disease, because I believe that this is also an issue of responsibility from the point of view is not to stigmatize this situation.

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“This disease has yet to be understood because we are facing a new wave that is different from what we have known historically for decades.”

Spanish Health Minister Carolina Darias said Wednesday her government had decided to opt for the European Union’s collective purchase of monkeypox vaccines, which, like the COVID-19 vaccine, will be distributed on the basis of the population of each participating country. She said government health experts are considering how the vaccine could be used once it becomes more widely available.

Amos García, president of the Spanish Association of Vaccinology, recommended that the vaccine should only be given to people who have had direct contact with an infected person and who are susceptible to infection, not the general population.

“We’re talking about a disease that doesn’t have much potential to become an epidemic,” García said, adding that most Spaniards over 40 should be protected by smallpox vaccines that were regularly administered decades ago.

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Ciarán Giles in Madrid, Joseph Wilson in Barcelona and Trisha Thomas Rome contributed to this report.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed without permission.

https://www.local10.com/news/world/2022/05/27/spanish-lgbtq-groups-wary-of-monkeypox-stigma-as-pride-nears/ Spanish LGBTQ groups shy away from monkeypox stigma as Pride draws near

Sarah Y. Kim

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