Who’s At Risk of Monkeypox?

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The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared monkeypox a global health emergency. This is on the basis of 16,000 cases worldwide. There are 7.96 billion people in the world. Why does 16,000 cases of a virus that rarely kills anyone merit the designation “global health emergency”? Presumably, it’s because monkeypox is now being seen in (relatively) large numbers in the West, whereas prior to this year it was largely restricted to Africa. So, I guess since White gay men are now catching it, it’s a global health emergency.

Who’s at risk for monkeypox? Well, if you’re not paying close attention, you might think anyone is. That’s technically true, because I suppose anyone can pick up the virus from close contact with those who are at genuinely great risk. Who are those at genuinely great risk? Sexually active gay men, otherwise now known as “men who have sex with other men.” There is an infant and a toddler who have contracted monkeypox in the US, one in California and one in Washington, DC. Even in these cases, however, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky reports that both children had contact with gay or bisexual men. Of the about 2800 cases in the US so far, eight are women. So, monkeypox is clearly a disease that is being spread by and amongst gay men.

Of course, monkeypox must be taken seriously. No one is saying it shouldn’t be. I’m an RN, so I’m certainly not saying it shouldn’t be taken seriously. At the same time, we ought not have any reservations about identifying which community is at greatest risk – in fact, overwhelmingly greatest risk – of contracting monkeypox, and that is sexually active gay men. As of now, the percentage of people who have contracted monkeypox in the US who are not sexually active gay men is 0.00357%. So, except under exceptionally rare circumstances, if you’re not a sexually active gay man, you’re not going to get monkeypox. And, even if you do, it’s almost certainly because you’ve had contact with sexually active gay men.

I recall reading an account of Elizabeth Taylor, who was an advocate for the treatment of people with AIDS, rebuking a man in a wheelchair who wasn’t having sex with anyone and who insisted that he was not at risk of contracting HIV. It was important to Taylor, and to many others at the time, to convince everyone that anyone could contract HIV and, eventually, AIDS. Otherwise, they believed, if people thought it was limited to the gay male community, or to those unfortunates who received donations of infected blood products during surgery or in life-saving procedures, people might not take it seriously.

The same tactic was employed during the COVID pandemic. From rather early on, we knew what communities were at greatest risk of dying from COVID – namely, the elderly and those with co-morbidities. Yes, there were outliers – the thirty-something otherwise healthy man who died, or the child who suffered a tragic outcome. But the average age of those who died from COVID was 78. The percentage of those under the age of twenty who died of COVID was less than 1%. So, what did we do? Instead of targeting and keeping safe those most at risk of suffering a severe or fatal response from COVID, we shut down the entire country, trampled on peoples’ rights, destroyed peoples’ businesses and livelihoods, imposed months of loneliness and isolation on everybody, closed schools and pushed kids back academically by at least a year or more, and forced a vaccine on everybody (at pain of losing your job!) that we now know doesn’t protect from COVID (though, certainly, diminishes the likelihood of severe consequences – oh, except the vast, vast majority of those under thirty, like those military personnel who were kicked out because they wouldn’t get vaccinated, were not likely to suffer severe consequences, anyway). But the motivation behind the COVID shut down was not just convincing people to take it seriously, it was to convince people to not vote for this guy or that guy, and to increase by several degrees the amount of power government officials have over the lives of the citizenry. This in the supposed bastion of democracy in the world.

Our political and health leaders need to stop this pattern of trying to convince everyone that they are at risk of catching everything. It is medically wrong, and it is unethical. The fog created around monkeypox is created for the same reason the fog surrounding HIV was created – to avoid stigmatizing the sexual lives of gay men. But when certain behaviors run the risk of serious negative consequences, those behaviors ought to be stigmatized. It’s one of the things that keeps us humans from doing the stupid things that prevent us from creating the next generation of humans.

Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.

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