The monkeypox outbreak makes for a nervous summer in northern Ontario’s gay community.
Anyone can get the virus through any kind of close contact, but so far most of the 400 infected people in the province are gay men.
Only two of those cases are in the north, with one reported in the Sudbury-Manitoulin health district and the other in the North Bay-Parry Sound health unit.
Ken Miller, one of the founders of the Northern Ontario Pride Network, says this reminds many of the 1980s AIDS crisis, which was incorrectly dubbed the “gay plague.”
“There’s a certain hysteria associated with that,” he said.
“I think there are people who are afraid, and there are people in particular who are afraid of the gay community. As are people in the gay community who are afraid of getting it.”
He is pleased that the monkeypox vaccine is being made more available in the region.
Initially, it was only possible to get vaccinated against the virus in areas with confirmed cases.
But Thunder Bay’s public health department has now agreed to make the vaccine available to gay, bisexual and transgender men who have multiple sexual partners or are otherwise at high risk of contracting monkeypox.
Miller wants the province to allow anyone to get the monkeypox vaccine, and the public health news is making it clearer that anyone can contract the virus through close contact.
“Prolonged contact, right? So it’s like cuddling, I mean even wrestling, playing sports. Yes, sexual contact and all that. But just pay attention to who they’re getting close to and for how long,” he said.
Public Health Sudbury and Districts notes that it is “important not to stigmatize others based on sex, gender or sexual orientation as this can lead to a misunderstanding of the risks”.
The health unit has distributed 21 doses of the monkeypox vaccine since July 18.