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New Report Says *This* is What Stopped the Spread of Mpox

Kilian Melloy READ TIME: 3 MIN.

After seeing the wildfire spread of COVID, some feared mpox could similarly become a widespread affliction. It didn't – and new research tells us why.

Though a vaccine was rapidly deployed, a newly published paper says it was the way the gay community took responsibility, stepped up, and adapted that stopped what might have become an epidemic in its tracks, U.S. News & World Report relayed.

"Once the mpox epidemic was recognized, behavioral modification in the men-who-have-sex-with-men community resulted in a sharp decline in [the rate of transmission] in North America ahead of vaccination rollout in the U.S.," the writeup quoted from the new study, which appeared in the scientific journal Cell on Feb. 29.

Rather than denial and politicization, the response within the MSM community included vaccination clinics at bathhouses in Los Angeles, as well as the MSM community taking action to avoid transmission of the skin-to-skin borne pathogen.

Some from outside the community sought to stigmatize and politicize mpox – originally called "monkeypox," but renamed by the World Health Organization due to "racist and stigmatizing language" that arose – but the MSM community refused to allow efforts at communicating medically accurate information and organizing effective responses to be derailed by such distractions. High-profile individuals spoke out about their personal experiences with the disease, rather than resorting to shame and secrecy.

Moreover, public institutions did not shy away from addressing a health concern that many may have incorrectly viewed as a "gay" affliction. "The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention worked closely with the L.G.B.T.Q. community to raise awareness about the importance of behavior modification," The New York Times noted in an article about the new report.

The highly contagious affliction can be spread through contact with clothing or towels, as well as casual skin contact, and is not necessarily transmitted through sexual interaction.

Citing data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. News & World Report detailed that "the 2022 outbreak of mpox (formerly called monkeypox) in the United States involved 31,698 known cases and 56 deaths. Globally, the outbreak involved almost 93,500 cases."

The disease had been present in Africa for decades, but was little known elsewhere until the summer of 2022. Two European raves are thought to have served as superspreader events that propelled the affliction to global concern.

The researchers behind the new paper "used sophisticated computer modeling to track the origin and spread of mpox variants throughout the United States over the course of the outbreak," U.S. News & World Report said. "They noted that – once people within the gay community had been alerted to the danger – many quickly altered their behavior to engage sexually with fewer partners."

The results were dramatic. "In August, just a few months after first being reported in the population, the spread of mpox began to slow, even though vaccines had not yet reached most of those at risk," the writeup detailed.

The lead author of the new paper, Miguel Paredes, told the New York Times that "this supports the notion that public health messaging can 'be really powerful to control epidemics, even as we're waiting for things like vaccines to come,'" U.S. News & World Report went on to add.

The swift and effective way the MSM community reacted is proof positive that taking science seriously and recognizing that pathogens like viruses are opportunistic, and not ideological, in nature leads to better outcomes than politicizing and stigmatizing public health issues. Still, the writeup injected a note of caution: "Even though gay men's actions may have slowed mpox in the short-term, it's not clear that – without a vaccine – behavioral change could have kept the disease away for good," U.S. News & World Report noted.

Vaccines – another scientifically sound and long-proven means of combatting threats to public health – remain a significant bulwark against outbreaks and pandemics.

by Kilian Melloy , EDGE Staff Reporter

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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