‘The Virus Doesn't Discriminate': Monkeypox Messaging Raises Stigma Concerns

The majority of known monkeypox cases in D.C. so far involve gay or bisexual men, but doctors warn that the virus can affect anyone

NBC Universal, Inc.

Concerns over monkeypox are rising — and so too are concerns about how we think and talk about the disease. 

The majority of known cases in D.C. so far involve gay or bisexual men, but doctors warn that the virus can affect anyone. 

D.C. emergency physician Dr. Adam Brown, of ABIG Health, said he wants to fine-tune messaging behind the transmission of monkeypox. He said he sees parallels between how some people talk about the disease now and how people discussed the AIDS epidemic. 

“This a problem for the population at whole, because the virus doesn’t discriminate just because we discriminate,” he said. 

“There’s so much focus with this virus and with the messaging around the virus, around the gay community, that there are many straight individuals with the disease, spreading the disease in their communities, that did not have any directed messaging or even resourcing to know that they were at risk,” Brown continued. 

Monkeypox vaccines in D.C. are currently open to residents who have had close contact with someone confirmed to have the disease; men or transgender women who have had sex with men; sex workers; and staff at establishments where sexual activity occurs.

It’s important to note that people outside those groups can contract monkeypox, said Duante’ Brown-Balenciaga of Impulse Group DC. 

“What you don’t want to do is single people out as, These are the people that are getting this. And then these other people are like, ‘Hey, I can go about my life, I can go about my day,’” he said. 

News4 reached out to DC Health and asked about the department’s messaging. Officials flagged the importance of not stigmatizing LGBTQ+ people as we speak about the disease. 

“DC Health has always been a great supporter and advocate for the LGBTQ+ community and wants to stress that monkeypox is not a disease limited to those who are gay, bisexual or men who have sex with men,” DC Health said in a statement. “It is not uncommon for a disease to initially cluster within a specific population, and it in no way represents any fault by that population, and it is important that we do not stigmatize this community.” 

At least 110 cases of monkeypox were known in D.C. as of Monday, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Maryland had 71 cases, the CDC said. Virginia had 72, the state health department said. 

Brown said he hopes more resources will be dedicated to fight the disease.

“We simply do not have enough vaccine. We do not have enough tests to be able to test for monkeypox or do any level of broad-based surveillance. We also don’t have enough treatment for the disease,” he said. 

Symptoms take 7-14 days to show, but can take up to 21 days to show

DC Health and the Washington Blade were set to hold a town hall event Monday, July 25 from 7 to 9 p.m. on the messaging surrounding monkeypox. Go here for more information.

Contact Us