'It's not just a gay illness': What you need to know about monkeypox

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Monday, July 25, 2022
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The World Health Organization has declared monkeypox a public health emergency. With cases climbing every day, medical professionals want you to know how to keep the virus from spreading,

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- The World Health Organization has declared monkeypox a public health emergency. With cases climbing every day, medical professionals want you to know how to keep the virus from spreading to you. Medical professionals say swollen lymph nodes are one of the first signs.

"They can look like pustules things filled with pus. They can look like blisters," said Dr. Thomas Holland, infectious disease professor at Duke University. "The ones in your neck that may get swollen when you have strep throat or sore throat. They are enlarged glands. They can be in the neck, armpits or groin region."

According to Holland, it is a highly contagious and painful lesion that attaches itself to you and others you've been in close contact with. Monkeypox is in the same family as smallpox.

Holland told ABC11 that though the virus can be transmitted during sex, it's still too early to tell whether the virus could be considered a sexually transmitted infection.

"So far it's mostly been seen among men who have sex with men, but anyone can get monkeypox. It's not limited to that population. You have seen the first reported cases in kids likely acquired in household transmission," he said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has created a Situation Summary on its website showing there are more than 16,000 monkeypox cases in 243 countries. There are nearly 3,000 cases in the United States and 34 in North Carolina.

LGBTQ advocates believe the public health response isn't enough.

"The response has been kind of slow and lackluster. It seems like marginalized communities have been impacted and it's not really a priority," said Matt Martin with North Carolina AIDS Action Network. "This is not just a gay sickness or gay illness."

Martin compares the monkeypox outbreak to the HIV epidemic drawing similarities and calling on the government to ramp up education efforts.

"That's just not being communicated and that's really alarming especially after coming off of two years of a really scary public health emergency straight into another," he said.

As of Monday, Wake County has scheduled 110 appointments for the vaccine. Durham County has distributed 89 vaccines. Cumberland County just announced it is taking appointments.

READ MORE: Man with first Monkeypox case in Durham County shares story with ABC11

The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services said Monday afternoon that vaccinations to protect against monkeypox are now available for:

  • Anyone who had close contact in the past two weeks with someone who has been diagnosed with monkeypox, and
  • gay or bisexual men or transgender individuals who report having multiple sex partners or anonymous sex, being diagnosed with a sexually transmitted infection or receiving medications to prevent HIV infection in the past 90 days.

"While monkeypox can affect anyone through close skin-to-skin contact, our data show that currently, almost all cases in North Carolina and across the country have been in gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men," said NCDHHS Secretary Kody H. Kinsley. "Everyone in our health system across the state should be working quickly to increase use of testing and vaccinating those most at risk so we can contain this outbreak."

To date, 533 doses have been administered across the state.

More information can be found at NCDHHS's monkeypox web page.