Monkeypox cases seen in Europe, US and Australia as queer men urged to remain ‘vigilant’

Monkeypox lesions

Monkeypox cases have emerged across Europe, Australia and now some parts of the US – and queer men have been warned to stay “vigilant”.

Health officials across the world have reported unusual clusters of the rare virus, with France, Italy, Sweden and Australia now reporting new cases.

A suspected case in the Ile-de-France region has been detected, the French Ministry of Solidarities and Health said Thursday (19 May). The 29-year-old has no known recent travel history.

Italy reported a case in an adult who recently came back from the Canary Islands. The Public Health Agency of Canada confirmed two cases of monkeypox – the first in the nation’s history.

Sweden’s Public Health Agency said in a Thursday statement an infected person who is not “seriously ill” was recorded in the “Stockholm region”.

In the US, cases have been seen in Massachusetts – in a man who had travelled to Canada – and New York, state and city health departments said.

The patients in the UK, Canada and Portugal are mostly gay and bisexual men and men who have sex with men, public health agencies have said.

Only one of the patients in the UK had recently travelled – to Nigeria, where one strain of monkeypox has been recorded. The other patients are thought to have acquired monkeypox through community transmission.

Seven people in the UK have been diagnosed with monkeypox, according to the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA).

The agency has warned that queer men are particularly at risk of contracting monkeypox, known to spread through very close contact.

Queer men are urged to be ‘vigilant’ amid rise in monkeypox virus diagnoses

Health authorities in Australia have also urged queer men to be on the alert for symptoms of the virus.

The Victoria Department of Health said Friday a Melbourne man in his 30s was diagnosed with monkeypox following a trip to the UK. A Sydney man is thought to have “likely” caught the virus after returning from Europe, NSW Health said.

“A large proportion of the cases detected overseas are among gay, bisexual or men who have sex with men,” said New South Wales chief health officer Kerry Chant.

“We are urging men who are gay, bisexual or men who have sex with men to be aware of any unusual rashes or lesions.

“Be particularly vigilant if you have returned from overseas from large parties or sex on premises venues overseas.”

A teenager with suspected monkeypox. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty)

Monkeypox infections, according to the World Health Organisation, usually begin with fever, chills and body aches before developing the disease’s well-known rash.

Over time, the once flat red marks making up the rash become raised bumps that then become pus-filled blisters. The pustules appear on the face, chest and on the palm before crusting over.

Medical experts have warned queer men, in particular, to be wary of rashes or lesions on their bodies, especially their genitalia. They stressed that it is not a sexually transmitted infection.

The virus is related to smallpox but is milder, less infectious and can be treated with an antiviral drug. In the past, it has not caused large outbreaks as it is difficult to contract, unlike COVID-19 or influenza.

Monkeypox can spread through direct skin-to-skin contact through broken skin and body fluids as well as respiratory droplets but only after prolonged face-to-face contact.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control is “monitoring the situation closely” and is working with European Union member states. “A rapid risk assessment is under development and will be published next week,” the agency added in a statement.

“These latest cases, together with reports of cases in countries across Europe, confirms our initial concerns that there could be spread of monkeypox within our communities,” Dr Susan Hopkins, chief medical adviser to the UKHSA, said in a statement on Tuesday (17 May).

“This is rare and unusual.”

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