The United Nations’ Aids agency has called some reporting on the monkeypox virus racist and homophobic, warning of exacerbating stigma and undermining the response to the growing outbreak.
UNAIDS said “a significant proportion” of recent monkeypox cases have been identified among gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men.
But transmission was most likely via close physical contact with a monkeypox sufferer and could affect anyone, it added, saying some portrayals of Africans and LGBTI people “reinforce homophobic and racist stereotypes and exacerbate stigma”.
As of 21 May, the World Health Organisation received reports of 92 laboratory-confirmed monkeypox cases and 28 suspected cases from 12 countries where the disease is not endemic, including several European nations, the US, Australia and Canada.
“Stigma and blame undermine trust and capacity to respond effectively during outbreaks like this one,” said the UNAIDS deputy executive director, Matthew Kavanagh.
“Experience shows that stigmatising rhetoric can quickly disable evidence-based response by stoking cycles of fear, driving people away from health services, impeding efforts to identify cases and encouraging ineffective, punitive measures.”
Argentina’s health ministry said on Sunday it had detected a suspected case of monkeypox in Buenos Aires, amid growing global alarm over rising cases in Europe and elsewhere of the viral infection more common to west and central Africa.
Israel and Switzerland both said they identified one infected person who had recently travelled abroad. Israel is investigating other suspected cases.
Austria confirmed its first case of the virus on Sunday, while in the US health authorities said they might have found the country’s third case and were running tests on a patient in South Florida.
Monkeypox symptoms include fever, muscle aches, swollen lymph nodes, chills, exhaustion and a chickenpox-like rash on the hands and face.
No treatment exists, but the symptoms usually clear up after two to four weeks. The disease is considered endemic in 11 African nations.