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The recent rise of monkeypox cases has become a local health concern as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported 64 total cases in the District (as of July 8), prompting health officials to take action in addressing the sudden spread.
Originally discovered in 1958 within a research colony of monkeys, the source of the virus remains unknown. But it spreads to people through the scratch, or bite of an infected animal, infected person, or materials contaminated with the virus.
Falling under the viral family of smallpox, monkeypox shares many of the same symptoms most commonly shown as a pimple or blistered rash, additionally including fever, headache, chills, swollen lymph nodes, muscle aches and exhaustion.
“We started preparing for an event like this already three weeks ago,” said Anil T. Mangla, State Epidemiologist for the District of Columbia. “The CDC also made it clear that the track of monkeypox to the general U.S. population is low.”
Concerns of the rare infection have prompted District Mayor Bowser, in conjunction with DC Health, to allot limited vaccination appointments at the Ward & Ward Mental Health Services building in Northwest, for qualifying District residents most in need.
Availability remains limited to 300 appointments, specifically offered to gay males who have sex with other males, transgender or nonbinary women, sex workers and staff of sex work spaces in the case of open transmission. The specific classifications have created a tight dialogue on ensuring there is no bias while addressing those most vulnerable to the health issue.
“This has nothing to do with stigma. If you look at all [of] the 200 cases here in the U.S., over 95% are classified as gay, bisexual men having sex with men,” Mangla [told DC News Now].
But while many individuals receiving the vaccine support the city’s efforts to protect citizens of the looming outbreak, some residents hope for a more explicit narrative of the virus’ transmission risks, as promotion of the illness highlights demographics of the LGBT community.
“I wasn’t alive yet and this is not to compare to it but I think similar to the AIDS/HIV crisis in the 80’s, there is a lot of talk that it is only LGBT people who get it, which is not the truth,” Ward 5 resident Jarryd D. (last name requested to be withheld) shared while awaiting his appointment.
“I think it’s important for folks to realize that if you’re sexually active period, [you are also at risk],” he said. “Sure, it might be more prevalent in the LGBT community which I am a part of but I think there is a lot of negative connotation and we don’t need that – especially today when there is enough negativity about ‘being gay’ to begin with. It should be known that there is a risk of catching it no matter who you are.”
The CDC continues to work diligently with local health officials to help identify those people believed to have been in contact with other individuals who have tested positive for monkeypox and provide resources to monitor their health status.