5 August 2022

Chief Minister urges Monkeypox not to be treated as 'a gay man's disease'

| Lottie Twyford
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Monkeypox rash usually develops following fever, chills and swollen lymph nodes, and spreads across the body. Photo: Medscape.

The Chief Minister has made an impassioned plea for monkeypox to be treated as a universal disease that can impact anyone.

Andrew Barr made these comments following Thursday’s National Cabinet meeting where state and territory leaders were briefed on the national COVID-19 situation as well as monkeypox.

“[It] is not a gay man’s disease. Monkeypox is transmitted by close contact so anyone – regardless of their gender or sexuality -who has multiple sexual partners is at risk,” he said.

“It doesn’t matter whether you’re gay or straight or something in between.”

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The Chief Minister stressed he did not want monkeypox to go down the path HIV/AIDS had where public commentary on the matter was dominated by a belief it was a niche disease that could only affect gay men.

Mr Barr told reporters today he had raised the issue of the potential this messaging had to stigmatise LGBTQIA+ people at National Cabinet this morning and he had been supported by the Prime Minister and other Premiers.

“They agreed that can’t be how this is presented to the community,” he explained.

“You are at risk of contracting monkeypox if you undertake risky behaviours.”

Mr Barr is the country’s only openly gay head of state or territory.

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The country has now secured 450,000 vaccines against the disease amid what Health Minister Mark Butler described as a “highly contested” global market.

Of the secured doses, 22,000 are expected to arrive this month, 100,000 throughout the rest of the year and 350,000 next year.

There are currently 58 known cases around the country and 25,000 around the world.

So far, there have been two cases notified in the Territory.

When it announced the cases, ACT Health did not provide any information about the two persons’ sexuality or gender.

Health said in mid-July the two cases were experiencing mild symptoms and were isolating at home.

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Chief Health Officer Paul Kelly said today monkeypox was spread by very intimate contact and all of the cases in Australia had been detected in gay and bisexual men.

“But this can affect anyone,” he said.

“It generally does not cause severe disease but there have been some deaths in Spain recently. And it can affect other people who are immunocompromised [as well as] children and pregnant women. If it gets into those populations, it can be quite severe.”

The first lot of vaccines will be targeted at those at high risk from monkeypox exposure, such as gay or bisexual men who have had sex with men in the “high-risk category”.

Authorities say they are confident the current outbreak can be brought under control.

Symptoms of monkeypox can initially include fever, chills, muscle aches, backache and swollen lymph nodes.

Anyone who develops these symptoms should stay at home and phone a GP clinic to organise a telehealth appointment in the first instance, or phone the Canberra Sexual Health Clinic on 5124 2184.

More information on monkeypox is available online.

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