Note on language: the WHO is currently working on changing the name of Monkeypox. Scientists and activists have been pushing for this since the current outbreak started. While it's being decided, in our work at GMSH and in this blog, we're using the term Mpox.
Summer 2022 has officially closed. 😔 Marked by the return of concerts (#chromaticaball), festivals, new Powwows, and interesting CNE food. Mpox also entered our lives as we were getting ready for that hot-boy summer. It had us thinking about "sex bubbles" again, limiting our close contacts, frantically searching Google, and adding our vax status to our Grindr profiles as soon as possible.
The current situation:
Things are looking up in Canada and many other places, including parts of Europe and several US cities. That's largely thanks to the more than fifty thousand of us who learned about Mpox, made choices to reduce our risk, and rolled up our sleeves to get vaccinated.
A few things have remained the same since the outbreak started–
A viral disease that most commonly produces flu-like symptoms in addition to painful (and sometimes) scarring lesions. Symptoms can take up to 21 days to appear and usually last for 2-4 weeks, but the healing process for lesions can take longer.
While Mpox has not historically been understood as an STI, it is misbehaving like one in the current outbreak. The virus has been moving through sexual networks. Many folks who test positive share that they visited spaces where sex was occurring.
Severe symptoms are possible, and the pain experienced has much to do with where the lesions are located. Still, the fever, chills, and general shitty feeling are no picnic.
First – ensure you're getting the correct information from trusted sources. Just like during the COVID-19 crisis, misinformation abounds. Twitter should not be the first stop for us to get educated on a new disease outbreak.
Throughout the current outbreak, gay men rallied to do what we could to protect ourselves and each other. This included:
We’ve heard of a handful of cases where transmission was linked to sharing joints and cigarettes. For more tips on what you can do, watch this cheeky video we produced with the World Health Organization.
We think so, but there are limitations. Condoms create a barrier between parts of our bodies, so if a person had a lesion on their cock and fucked you, then we would assume that there is some protection. Unfortunately, sex is often sloppy or unpredictable and includes many activities that make Mpox transmission possible. If condoms provide peace of mind for you, then keep at it. 😊
Across the country, the Imvamune smallpox vaccine (used in the Mpox outbreak) is available to people who have a known exposure and belong to the affected community. *waves gay card*
Your eligibility may vary depending on what province you live in, but basically, if you're a Two-Spirt/gay/bi/queer dude, cis/trans/ or non-binary and have an active sex life, you should be eligible to receive the vaccine (at least your first dose).
Yes, the vaccine used in Canada (called Imvamune) is safe. It is authorized for use in Canada in people 18 years and older and is delivered by injection into the arm. You can receive the vaccine regardless of whether you were vaccinated for COVID-19.
According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, Imvamune's safety has been assessed in 20 completed clinical trials, where approximately 13,700 vaccine doses were given to 7,414 individuals. It is most effective after 2 doses but something is better than nothing in this case. Second dose eligibility will vary depending on where you live, but keep informed and access as soon as possible.
In Ontario, eligibility was recently expanded to include our sex worker friends and lovers.
Importantly, suppose you don't see yourself in the eligibility criteria in your province but are intimately connected to our queer community. In that case, you may need to advocate for yourself. We have heard in most cases, nobody asks at the clinic site.
Connect with your local public health authority to find a vaccination site near you.
This will depend on where you live; unfortunately, the health care systems in each province are quite different. Some areas have sexual health information lines, and many have queer-friendly community health centres.
A lot of folks have ended up being tested in local ER departments – this isn't always ideal, so best to check with your local public health authorities.
Early in the outbreak, there was concern that bars and large dance events were high-risk environments for Mpox transmission. As far as we can tell with the data we have, that so far has not really been the case.
Transmission is most likely to happen from sustained close contact… like sex. The large European parties first associated with the outbreak all featured anonymous and group sex among attendees.
If you're out dancing and concerned – you can try and keep your distance and keep your skin covered.
You're going to be ok. Mpox is time-limited, and, eventually, your symptoms will heal.
Unfortunately, you will be asked to isolate yourself from people and pets if you have them. This isolation period can be several weeks. Depending on where you live, you may or may not have access to support like money to cover lost income or isolation hotel stays if you have roommates. Be sure to ask what is available where you live when you're informed that you have Mpox.
You may experience changes in how you enjoy sex after having Mpox, especially if your lesions were located inside your ass, or where you enjoy sex. Little is known about the long-term effects of having Mpox, but researchers are looking into it.
Many things we did to care for ourselves during the COVID-19 lockdowns or when we had COVID are relevant for Mpox. Lean on the people in your life. We have tips on lesion care and links to other resources by people who have had Mpox on our site.
Stay up to date on the current Mpox outbreak, including vaccine clinic locations (in Ontario)- visit www.gmsh.ca/monkeypox
Dane is the Director of the Gay Men's Sexual Health Alliance working and living in Downtown Tkaronto/Toronto.