In a world of misinformation, the best place to start is with the facts. Here’s what we know: On June 23, 2022, North Carolina health officials confirmed the state’s first positive occurrence of the virus known widely as “monkeypox.” As of Thursday, August 18th at 8:49am, North Carolina has confirmed 198 positive test results. Like in other states, nearly all cases have been reported among men who have sex with men, or “MSM,” for lack of a better term, and all cases in North Carolina have been among cisgender men.
According to the August 10th, NCDHHS “Monkeypox Response Update: Equity Data Report on Cases, Testing, and Vaccines,” the highest showing of the virus is among Black or African American men, who make up 70% of the cases, while 19% of the cases are among white men. As of August 8th, over 3000 doses of the vaccine to prevent the virus had been administered. According to NCDHHS data, the racial data for demographics receiving the vaccine is a near inverse of those who have tested positive: only 19% of vaccine recipients have been Black/African American, whereas 67% of vaccines have gone to white men.
These data points represent three disparities: MSM are more at-risk for contracting the virus, Black men are more at-risk than white men, and white people are more likely to have been vaccinated. It’s important to separate what this data is telling us and what it’s not telling us but what our own biases may be driving us to conclude. In a July 28th town hall with Equality North Carolina, NCDHHS Secretary Kody Kinsley made the point that, while it is trasmitted through close, intimate contact, including sexual activity, the virus is not classified as a sexually transmitted disease:
“First and foremost… this is not an STI. This spreads through close, intimate, skin-to-skin contact. It can spread during sexual activity and during non-sexual activity… Second, because this virus requires that sort of close, intimate contact for spreading, when it starts to take hold in a particular cohort, we see it hold in that cohort over time.”
Shame and stigma often prevents people from treating, preventing, and communicating about their health status in ways that can prevent the spread. As is often the case, harm reduction will be the best individual practice for limiting the spread of the virus. At Equality North Carolina, we have worked to learn as much as we can in the last few weeks about this virus, and we are inviting organizations that serve LGBTQ+ people into a coalition to do outreach, education, and advocacy around testing and vaccinations. We have created www.poxvirusnc.org and @poxvirusnc on Twitter and Instagram to share information from our community to our community. There, you can access and share community-based vaccine clinics, prevention tips, and information on testing.
Here are some key ways to prevent the spread of this virus:
Get the vaccine if you are eligible! Current eligibility includes:
- 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 any of the following in the last 90 days:
- Having multiple sex partners or anonymous sex
- Being diagnosed with a sexually transmitted infection
- Receiving medications to prevent HIV infection (PrEP)
Communicate with your partners about any recent illnesses or sores on your body or your partner’s body before physical contact.
- Avoid physical contact with people who have symptoms, such as rashes or sores, or with infected animals or contaminated materials.
- If you have tested positive, isolate until your symptoms have gone away completely.
Follow good hand hygiene protocol, including washing your hands thoroughly with soap and water.
At Pox Virus NC, you will find more information on how to protect yourself and others. On August 30, 2022, NCDHHS and Equality North Carolina hosted a second town hall on this virus. Watch @poxvirusnc on Instagram and Twitter for more information.
Ultimately, the key to fighting this virus is through community. We must look out for one another with compassion, and without judgment. We know stigma and shame are barriers to accessing care. But there’s nothing shameful about contracting a virus through intimacy, and it can be prevented. People with the virus are part of our community. Intimacy is not the enemy; the virus is the enemy, and we can fight it together by sharing resources and accessible, accurate information. If your organization would like to join the coalition to fight this virus across North Carolina, email email@example.com.