Spain's LGBTQ community is concerned that monkeypox outbreaks on the continent could cause an increase in homophobic sentiments based on misunderstandings.
Spanish health officials announced Thursday that there are now 84 confirmed cases, which is the highest in Europe. The investigation has been focused on the possible links between the Canary Islands Gay Pride, which attracted around 80,000 people in May, and cases involving a Madrid sauna.
Some people, especially gay and bisexual men believe that there is a touch too much homophobic hysteria among the public's reactions to the rare outbreak outside of Africa.
According to authorities in Britain and Spain, Germany, Portugal, most of the cases in Europe were among men who had sex with other men. According to a top advisor to the World Health Organization, the outbreak was probably triggered by two recent mass sexual events in Europe.
This outbreak is occurring in Spain as part of Madrid's Gay Pride celebrations, which are scheduled for early July. The event is expected to attract large crowds unlike previous years' events that were cancelled or scaled back due to COVID-19 restrictions. According to organizers, the city's 2019 Pride celebration in the pre-pandemic era attracted approximately 1.6 million revelers. However, police have put that figure at about 400,000.
"Pride is a big party, it's a moment for us to make our voices be heard, that brings many people together," Mario Blazquez (coordinator of health programs for the LGBTQ group COGAM) told The Associated Press.
Blazquez stated that he is concerned about the possibility of Pride celebrations being disrupted by restrictive measures, partly driven by prejudice and partly by fears of a new public health emergency.
"We don’t know what will happen. We don't know the potential virus transmission rate or the legal options that could be used. These legal measures, which can sometimes be discriminatory, could create a stigma.
Spanish authorities have so far not discussed any public health measures that could prevent large gatherings.
Blazquez expressed concern that society might make the same mistake as it made in the 1980s when HIV/AIDS was primarily focused on gay men and not the general population.
Blazquez stated that "this is a disease that anyone can get." "We face an epidemic that unfortunately once more has struck LGBTQ people, especially gay and bisexual males. This is a lot like the HIV-1 epidemic.
In the last few weeks, more than 150 cases have been identified by health authorities across Australia, North America and Israel. This is a shocking outbreak of a disease that has rarely been seen outside Africa. It remains a grave health risk in this region since its first human cases were found in 1970s.
Experts believe anyone can become infected by close contact with someone who is sick, their clothes or their bedsheets. Most people are able to recover in two to four weeks, without the need for hospitalization. The WHO states that 36% of fatal cases have been reported in recent years.
Because the disease is spreading to people in the United States, health officials are monitoring the situation closely. However, they stress that there is very little risk to the general public.
On Thursday, Italy confirmed 10 cases, but not all, of Monkeypox in individuals who had visited Spain's Canary Islands.
"Regarding sexual transmission, I believe we cannot yet define it strictly as a sexually transmitted disorder," stated Dr. Andrea Antinori at Spallanzani hospital in Rome, Director of Viral immunodeficiencies.
"So I would not identify this disease as a sexually transmitted illness at the moment and I would not identify the population -- men who have had sex with women -- as the carriers of the disease. I think this is also a problem in responsibility, from the perspective of not stigmatizing the situation.