Last summer, the LGBTQ community was particularly affected by an outbreak of mpox (formerly known as ‘monkeypox’. A vaccination campaign started slowly but surely, and partly because of that it ended with a fizzle. However, we are not completely rid of mpox yet.
“When I first heard about mpox, I thought that with an mpox infection you would only get some itchy blisters. Soon I saw videos on Instagram and TikTok of men who said they had suffered a lot of pain, sometimes they couldn’t even sleep because of the pain. I was shocked by that.” We speak with Michael (24), who decided to take preventive measures after reports of the potential seriousness of an MPox infection. “Every pimple or ingrown hair I suddenly thought: it can’t be a Mpox, can it? When I heard the story on social media of a man with mpox who said it felt like pieces of glass being stabbed in his rectum, I knew I wanted to be on the safe side. No more dates at all until I could get vaccinated.”
Gay club/bar owners saw visitor numbers drop by 35% this summer, due to concerned customers who decided to stay home until the mpox outbreak had blown over again. “I look back on that period with frustration. If a virus such as mpox presents itself, the government would have to drop everything out of their hands to be able to give the highest priority to preventing an outbreak. Instead, in my opinion, the vaccination started much too late and was also slow,” says a bar owner. “I am already worried about another epidemic. That it will come is certain. Hopefully we will not make the same mistakes as with AIDS, corona and mpox.”
Michael agrees: he also had to wait for his vaccination. “I take PrEP every day and I am vaccinated against Mpox. Way too late to be properly protected, so I didn’t go to parties and I didn’t mess around with dates this year.” Nevertheless, Michael is happy with his vaccination, although it has not taken away all his worries. “In the invitation for my mpox vaccination there were all kinds of links to information from the government, including a sentence that you are 85% protected after vaccination. So I can still get mpox, although the risk is reduced. So I will have to keep checking my body regularly for weird spots. Annoying to have to take something into account again, in addition to the well-known STDs, when you have sex.”
An anonymous individual got mpox in June. This was still quite early in the epidemic, when it was not yet clear that the virus is almost exclusively transmitted through intensive skin contact. The visit he paid to his doctor was therefore not without a struggle. “I had already been asked in advance by the assistant to take a picture of the spot and send it to me. The last thing I wanted was to take a picture of it, let alone upload it and send it online.” When he came to his appointment, the GP immediately gave him a face mask. “The whole waiting room was looking at me. Once inside, I wanted to tell my story, but the GP interrupted me: ‘Don’t sit down!’.” The doctor quickly knew that it was about mpox.
QUARANTINED FOR WEEKS
“Fortunately, I had little trouble: a total of three spots and a few days of fever. In terms of mildness, it was actually a bit comparable to when I had corona.” The difference was mainly the period that he had to be quarantined. “Three weeks was a lot longer than with corona. I really had to deal with the emerging shame.” It felt like an STD to him. “I had to cancel a list of contacts full of discomfort. Only now there were not only random people among them, but also, for example, family members with whom I had simply spent an hour in the pub.” This policy has now been relaxed considerably, and MPox patients do not have to go into isolation if they do not have a fever and can cover the smallpox with clothing or plasters. Only people with whom there has been intensive skin-to-skin contact (such as sex) should be informed.
DECLINE IN INFECTIONS
At the moment, the number of new infections is very low: in the past two weeks there was only one new case. Although the mpox epidemic continues in other parts of the world – including South America – it is also on the decline there. We don’t know exactly what was the main contributor to that, but it’s probably due to a combination of several factors. The group with the highest risk of mpox – men who have sex with men and have many different partners – built up immunity to mpox due to previous infections and vaccinations. We also think it helped that men in this group chose to temporarily have fewer sex partners and visit clubs and parties less often.”
We are not completely rid of the virus yet. We can continue to see new cases in the coming period, of which I expect a large proportion will come from abroad. The alertness to mpox therefore remains very important – just like with the other STDs.
WHAT YOU CAN DO AGAINST MPOX
Although a large-scale mpox outbreak has fortunately not taken place, the virus has not disappeared from the face of the earth. Therefore, stay alert, even if you have already been vaccinated. Mpox is still most common in men who have sex with men and have many different partners. Have you found a spot you don’t trust? Contact your health care providers as soon as possible.
HOW TO RECOGNIZE MPOX
You can contract mpox through sex and intimate skin-to-skin contact. A rash can be all over your body, but men often develop around their butt and penis. You first get spots, then they turn into blisters. Those blisters initially look like regular pimples. After the blisters dry up, scabs remain, which fall off the skin after a while. That can cause scars. Only after the scabs have fallen off the skin are you no longer contagious.
If you have contracted mpox, you may experience symptoms such as fever, headache, muscle aches, swollen lymph nodes and fatigue for the first time a week to three weeks later. Another possible – and very painful – symptom: rectal inflammation. It seems that avoiding anal sex, or having anal sex only with a condom, can prevent rectum inflammation in many cases. It is important that you only go outside for a period of three weeks if you can cover the areas well and do not have a fever. It is also important that you do not have sex or intensive skin-to-skin contact during that period until all the scabs have fallen off and you no longer have any complaints. This will prevent you from infecting others.
Aren’t you vaccinated yet? If someone with whom you had sex or intimate skin-to-skin contact informs you that they have been diagnosed with mpox, you should still get a vaccination. Experts have advised the government to continue to vaccinate, and it will be examined in the spring whether a new vaccination campaign will be started.