San Francisco health officials to hold virtual monkeypox forum

  • by Cynthia Laird, News Editor
  • Friday July 8, 2022
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This image of lesions on hands is more representative of what the current monkeypox outbreak looks like, according to health officials. Photo: Courtesy CDC
This image of lesions on hands is more representative of what the current monkeypox outbreak looks like, according to health officials. Photo: Courtesy CDC

The San Francisco AIDS Foundation and the city's health department are hosting a virtual forum on the monkeypox outbreak to help inform the public about the latest health crisis provoking worry across the globe. It comes as LGBTQ leaders and advocates are increasingly calling on the federal government to do more to address the disease as cases rapidly rise in the U.S.

As the Bay Area Reporter has noted in recent articles, San Francisco has seen an increase in monkeypox cases in the last several days. On July 5, the San Francisco Department of Public Health updated its count of known or probable monkeypox cases to 40, more than doubling since last week. (New numbers were not available at press time Friday, July 8.)

The online forum about the disease will take place from 6 to 7 p.m. Tuesday, July 12. To register for it, click here.

The AIDS foundation noted in an email promoting the upcoming forum that the virus is circulating among men who have sex with men.

"Monkeypox is circulating in our community, and we want to make sure you have the info you need about what's going on," its email stated. "Please join us for a town hall where we'll answer questions and facilitate discussion about how the infection is spreading in the Bay Area, testing and treatment, symptoms, unmet needs around vaccine access, and how to get involved in advocating for vaccine access for our community."

Calls for increased vaccine doses have been growing louder in recent days. The B.A.R. editorialized for a more robust federal response this week.

On July 8, gay state Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) and Assemblymember Matt Haney (D-San Francisco) issued a joint statement on the current outbreak, which began in May.

"Monkeypox is a growing public health issue in our community," the lawmakers stated. "While the virus can infect anyone, it is particularly impacting gay and bisexual men. We have very little time to contain this outbreak and prevent it from getting out of control and potentially becoming endemic."

While Wiener and Haney noted there is an effective vaccine, the problem is that there is not enough of it.

"The bad news is that the federal government has once again had a public health failure, this time by failing to order enough vaccine doses to prepare for this foreseeable outbreak," Wiener and Haney stated. "The federal government needs to dramatically increase the supply of the vaccine and distribute it to impacted local communities as quickly as possible. We have no time to spare. It's completely unacceptable that the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and other community clinics are receiving so few doses. We need a sufficient quantity of vaccines so that everyone who is at risk has access."

According to the Biden administration an additional 144,000 doses of the JYNNEOS monkeypox vaccine are to start being shipped out to the states Monday, July 11. It had already made available 200,000 doses of the vaccine to communities with the highest transmission of the disease, as the Washington Blade LGBTQ newspaper noted.

"We are using every tool we have to increase and accelerate JYNNEOS vaccine availability in jurisdictions that need them the most," said Strategic National Stockpile Director Steve Adams in a July 7 statement shared by the White House.

While anyone can get monkeypox through close personal contact, the virus is primarily spreading within networks of gay, bisexual, and transgender men who have sex with men. Many of these men reported multiple recent sex partners or attended venues and events where sex and other intimate contact takes place. Only a small number of cases have been identified among women.

As the B.A.R. first reported online July 5, organizers of two large pre-Pride dance parties have alerted attendees that people known or suspected to have monkeypox were present at the events. Steamworks bathhouse in Berkeley has also warned patrons about potential exposure. As of July 7, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has identified 700 cases in the U.S., according to a map and case count broken down by state it has created and updates throughout the week.

California has reported the most cases, at 136, just behind New York and its 131 cases. Worldwide, the CDC has tallied nearly 7,600 cases in non-endemic countries based on an international map it posted online.

Joining the growing chorus of advocates calling for more vaccine doses, the national LGBTQ organization Human Rights Campaign issued a statement July 8 pushing for an equitable rollout of the new monkeypox vaccine known as Jynneos.

"Just like many members of our community, we're concerned about the spread of MPV," stated Jay Brown, HRC senior vice president of programs, research, and training, using the abbreviation for monkeypox. "We recognize that the virus has been able to easily spread through close, skin-to-skin contact within our community. Over the past several weeks, we've seen the LGBTQ+ community doing what we're best at: caring for each other, raising awareness and acting on sound public health guidance.

"Public health and other government officials must act quickly to ramp up testing capacity and vaccine distribution," Brown continued. "They also need to be intentional with vaccine distribution and testing, prioritizing how to reach Black and Brown gay and bi+ men and transgender women, especially those individuals living with HIV.

HRC also launched a monkeypox resource page that includes information on symptoms and treatment.

Close personal contact

The monkeypox virus spreads through close personal contact, including skin-to-skin contact, kissing, and respiratory transmission at close range. But it does not spread through the air over longer distances like the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, according to the CDC. It can also spread via clothing, bedding, or surfaces that come in contact with fluid from the lesions. It is not yet known whether monkeypox is transmitted in semen, but it does spread through contact with sores during sex.

In Southern California, the Los Angeles LGBT Center released a statement in response to more cases being reported there. As of July 6, there have been 42 probable and confirmed cases of this virus in Los Angeles (117 in California and 605 in the U.S.), and all L.A. cases have occurred in gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men, the center stated.

The L.A. center is also holding a virtual forum July 12.

Click here for the latest updates on vaccine eligibility and locations in San Francisco.

To contact City Clinic, click here or call its new phone number, 628-217-6600. To contact SFAF's Magnet clinic at Strut, click here or call 415-581-1600.

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