The monkeypox virus causes lesions that may resemble acne scars, ingrown hairs, or other viruses. They are contagious until the scabies are completely healed. (UK Health Safety Agency/CDC).
A guest column by Kenyon Farrow
It may come as a surprise to most people in Ohio that in addition to dealing with the ongoing ebb and flow of COVID-19 infections and variants, we actually have an entirely different infectious disease to worry about: monkeypox. And the Ohio Department of Health (ODH) has done little to engage the public in any details about the virus, how it’s spread, any plans to increase testing and when the state might be able to use vaccines that are approved for it. preventing getting the virus.
So far, all we have received is a press release announcing the first suspected case of monkeypox in the state. On June 13, the Ohio Department of Health issued a press release announcing the case, with messages from ODH Director Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff, who seemed to downplay the threat that monkeypox might pose to the health of Ohioans.
“What I want to emphasize strongly is that monkeypox does not spread easily between humans, and so the risk to Ohioans overall is very low,” he said.
Dr. Vanderhoff is right in one sense. Monkeypox, compared to an airborne virus like COVID-19, is less efficient at spreading from person to person. But it is spread through physical contact with someone who has contracted the virus—and that contact can be sexual contact, but also kissing, hugging, bodily fluids, and any contact where you come into contact with the lesions that most commonly accompany an infection. and without analysis it can sometimes be confused with other diseases such as herpes or congenital syphilis. And while monkeypox is rarely fatal, it is an extremely torturous disease for those who contract it. Moreover, it is more dangerous for babies and children, as well as for pregnant women.
Since June 13, when ODH first reported a suspected case, we now have 3 documented cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While this number may seem low and like nothing most Ohioans should be concerned about, the truth is that we don’t actually have an accurate count to know if monkeypox is spreading here and how fast. .
ODH has not launched any public education materials in the form of television or radio public service announcements, social media posts, press conferences, or outreach efforts so that the majority of Ohioans know about the virus, how it spreads, and how to are protected. ODH has not announced any locations across the state where you can be tested for monkeypox if you suspect you may have it.
And even if cases of monkeypox here are currently few in number, they may not stay that way. Unlike COVID-19 where summer has typically meant lower transmission rates because people are outside more and have windows open to allow fresh air to circulate, there are more events where people come into close contact with each other . Airports and flights are full. Summer is full of music festivals, county fairs, amusement parks and all kinds of events where people are often in close contact. Jails and prisons, due to medical neglect, overcrowding, and unsanitary conditions created by lack of care, can also become a place where monkeypox can spread in and out of cancer settings.
Additionally, monkeypox appears to be spreading rapidly in most American cities among LGBTQ people, especially gay/bisexual men. June was Pride Month and every corner of the state has had pride festivals this past month (and people from Ohio, including myself, have traveled to pride festivals in other cities and back) how do we actually know if we have more cases without doing the proper public education and information campaigns associated with an infrastructure to provide testing to people who think they have been exposed?
JYNNEOS (also known as Imvamune or Imvanex) is a 2-dose monkeypox vaccine currently in limited supply in the US, and according to the US Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response , only 4 doses (enough for 2 people to be fully vaccinated against monkeypox) have been distributed in Ohio until more doses are secured and imported later this year.
But will ODH or Gov. Mike DeWine advocate for Ohioans to have access to this vaccine once more? And will he create a plan to test and distribute monkeypox?
I certainly hope so. But in the current political climate, it wouldn’t shock me if good public health policy once again takes a back seat to politics, endangering the lives of Ohioans in the process. Ohio GOPs in recent years have passed anti-LGBTQ legislation, further criminalized abortion after the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade, and their 2021 bill to dismantle the ODH’s authority to to be able to enact and enforce measures to protect Ohioans during public health emergencies all add to the ways in which ODH may have been the victim of state capture by personal and political interests unrelated to the mission declared of the organization.
Just look at what happened a month before the June announcement of the first possible case of monkeypox in Ohio – two ODH employees (who were in the prevention of sexually transmitted infections department) were fired or resigned because they included information about an upcoming training for medical providers on how to prescribe a medication used for women experiencing miscarriages or for abortions up to 10 weeks (which was 6 weeks before the US Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade ) in an electronic newsletter (first reported by the Ohio Capital Gazette on June 22).
The OCJ portion also noted that ODH’s Human Resources department also objected to the newspaper’s promotion of “National Masturbation Month; Honor Our LGBT Seniors Day; International Day Against Homophobia, Pansexual and Panromantic Visibility Day; SLAM (Sexuality, Liberators and Movers); Black and Blue – Suicide in our Leather, Kink and Queer Communities; and National Condom Month.”
How should the STI prevention program in ODH do prevention work without taking advantage of these anniversaries to draw public attention? Is this why they have been so unhappy about monkeypox education, outreach, and testing?
Of course, no one was looking for a monkeypox outbreak in 2022. As someone who has worked in infectious disease public health as a lawyer and journalist for more than two decades, it wasn’t even on my radar. But that’s the thing about infectious diseases – they take advantage of human weakness and ignorance. And just when you least expect it, they have found a way to grow and thrive. And ignorance about a virus and how to prevent it, and government neglect in creating educational opportunities, outreach, testing, and vaccination become how diseases spread.
So, knowing this, one would expect the leadership of our state health department to take a more active role publicly in moving ahead of what could be a real public health disaster. I hope they choose public health over politics.
KENYON is a writer and activist based in Cleveland Heights, OH. He is the managing director of advocacy and organizing with PrEP4All, and serves on the board of the LGBT Center of Greater Cleveland.
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