Well, this monkeypox thing is certainly taking its share of twists and turns. There are some “nobody knows” that have even someone like me who’s been writing on epidemics for over 35 years scratching under my armpits. I could also add “is driving me bananas,” but enough with the puns, already.
For example, why has the World Health Organization (WHO) proposed changing the name because it’s “discriminatory and stigmatizing”? Against … right. But as it happens, in Brazil people are attacking monkeys in apparent response to the outbreak — and not because they’re afraid that one day they will take over the planet. So, the WHO has a point.
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has declared the disease that will soon be called “formerly known as monkeypox” a public health emergency, and the WHO has declared it a “Public Health Emergency of International Concern.” At time of publication, there have been about 31,425 cases reported in 82 countries that “have not historically reported monkeypox.”
Apparently, what kicked off the current outbreak was a very recent mutation. Viruses, like all organisms and not just NBA players, want to spread their genes to ensure survival of the species and gene line. This exerts evolutionary pressure to become more contagious. That said, although it often takes many generations, there’s also pressure to become more benign. Ideally a virus wants to infect everyone and kill no one. It appears this variant has indeed become less fatal than its predecessor.
Heretofore, with little exception, monkeypox has not only been confined to sub-Saharan Africa but even to a minority of those countries. COVID, by contrast, apparently didn’t exist before it became pandemic. Though, then again, HIV/AIDS did, perhaps as early as 1884.
Monkeypox generally first “was discovered in 1958 when two outbreaks of a pox-like disease occurred in colonies of monkeys kept for research.” Hence that awful discriminatory name. But in fairness, as we’re seeing now, animals besides monkeys can contract and spread it.
“Human monkeypox was first identified in humans in 1970 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in a 9-month-old boy,” according to the WHO. Since then, “human cases of monkeypox have been reported in 11 African countries,” and it appears the numbers were slowly increasing in that area. Ironically, this could be because of the success in eradicating its brutal cousin, smallpox, which had a death rate of about 30 percent. Smallpox vaccines provide a strong crossover immunity with monkeypox, so when the smallpox vaccinations stopped people were no longer receiving monkeypox immunity.
But in this first worldwide outbreak, remarkably the victims are far more likely to be gay males than was ever the case with even HIV/AIDS, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) saying that 99 percent of current U.S. cases are in that category.
Why does the U.S. have a disproportionate number of cases, about 9,400 out of those 31,420? There is “insufficient data from which to speculate,” as Mister Spock would say. It does perhaps help to know that this isn’t the country’s first outbreak. Says the WHO, “In 2003, forty-seven confirmed and probable cases of monkeypox were reported from six states,” with all victims apparently infected by prairie dogs that in turn appear to have had contact with small mammals imported from Ghana. The organization confirms that those cases marked the only instance of reported human monkeypox outside the region of Africa. Last year, an American who traveled to Nigeria also contracted the disease.
But as noted, this “new model” seems reluctant to kill. While the original variant had an estimated 3 to 6 percent mortality rate (which presumably would be lower in Western countries with better health services), there have been just four reported deaths outside of sub-Saharan Africa. The deaths occurred in Brazil (one death), Spain (two deaths), and India (one death). Further, we don’t know which definition of mortality was used: the traditional one, as in “died from,” or the newer one, long used with COVID and originally used with AIDS. Here’s a direct quote from the CDC: “In 2020, there were 18,489 deaths among people with diagnosed HIV in the U.S. and dependent areas. These deaths could be from any cause.” In regard to monkeypox, we know that in Brazil, the deceased man was immunocompromised and suffered from lymphoma.
Regardless, this is where social distancing would pay off — just a few inches would be enough. “Human-to-human transmission can result from close contact with respiratory secretions, skin lesions of an infected person or recently contaminated objects,” observes the WHO. “Transmission via droplet respiratory particles usually requires prolonged face-to-face contact.”
That said, monkeypox certainly qualifies as a sexually transmitted infection (STI). In the July 21, 2022, New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), a large international team of researchers who evaluated “528 infections diagnosed … at 43 sites in 16 countries” observed that “[o]verall, 98% of the persons with infection were gay or bisexual men.” Although the pictures you see of monkeypox victims show the rashes in any number of places, and indeed they can appear essentially anywhere, that’s not where the researchers were finding them.
Instead, as the NEJM article reports, “73% had anogenital lesions [penis and anus in this case, but otherwise also includes the vagina], and 41% had mucosal lesions.” So, we’re basically talking about the anus, the penis, and the mouth. Not only are all three of these normal points of extreme sexual contact during homosexual intercourse, but they are also mucous membranes, meaning they are thinner and more capable of allowing germ transmission.
Other data indicate we’re not talking about monogamous gay couples. When the U.K. Health Security Agency invited 82 gay, male monkeypox victims for additional interviews that centered on sexual health, it found that “[a]mong the 45 who participated, 44% reported more than 10 sexual partners in the previous 3 months, and 44% reported group sex during the incubation period.”
(Yes, the virus is normally also detected in semen — 91 percent of samples in one study — and not in blood or urine, but this could be essentially incidental. That is, what really counts is mucous membrane to mucous membrane contact.)
That it’s not exclusively transmitted through sex doesn’t mean it’s not an STI. “Can you catch syphilis without having sex?” asks a British health website. It continues: “The short answer is yes. Simply touching an infected sore or sharing items such as sex toys or razors could transmit the disease.” Further, “[p]regnant women can unwittingly pass on Syphilis to their unborn children during the pregnancy or at the time of birth, if the child is born vaginally.”
So, if syphilis qualifies as an STI, how can extra-African monkeypox not? Because it’s not woke to say so. “Monkeypox Is Not a Sexually Transmitted Infection: What Experts Want You to Know,” declaims a headline on Healthline.com.
The same NEJM study reporting monkeypox victims to be 98 percent gay or bisexual exhorts, “Although the current outbreak is disproportionately affecting gay or bisexual men and other men who have sex with men, monkeypox is no more a ‘gay disease’ than it is an ‘African disease.’” Huh? The vast majority of monkeypox cases during the current outbreak are indeed occurring outside of Africa, but, with the latest Gallup poll on the issue finding that 3.9 percent of U.S. men identify themselves as gay, a disease whose victims consist almost entirely of male homosexuals isn’t a “gay disease.”
You can find a sort of layman’s explanation of the NEJM article in the Conversation of Aug. 2, penned by the lead author. Yet, just six days later, the same outlet ran an article in which an epidemiologist states: “While sexual encounters are currently the predominant mode of transmission among reported cases, monkeypox is not a sexually transmitted infection. STIs are spread primarily through sexual contact, while monkeypox can spread through any form of prolonged, close contact.”
None other than the vaunted Anthony Fauci himself has said that “the government must fight homophobic stigmas surrounding monkeypox.” And elsewhere, emphasizing “the risk for … children and pregnant women,” he said, “We’ve got to understand the modality of transmission.”
Gay men know it’s an STI. That’s why in San Francisco they’ve been lining up at 2 a.m. for a vaccine. Since you need the vaccine prior to transmission, what they’re saying is they’re not about to give up promiscuity even for a while.
But epidemiology, you see, like journalism, is a field heavily dominated by “homophile” leftists. The Washington Post reports, “[I]n a 2018 survey, 72.4 percent of members in the Society for Epidemiologic Research reported their political affiliation as ‘liberal/left-leaning,’ compared with 4.4 percent who responded ‘conservative/right-leaning.'” Epidemiology has long since gone from being a hard science to a political ideology.
Both medical and science literature, as well as popular publications, are filled with admonishments to not treat monkeypox as a gay disease just as at one time the same was true of HIV/AIDS. But with male gays representing perhaps a few percentage points of the population and apparently almost all the monkeypox cases outside of the traditional disease areas of Africa, you’re darned closing to saying, “Prostate cancer is not a male disease and cervical cancer is not a female one.” And hey! Don’t iPhones have pregnant man emojis?
Ultimately, I see two takeaways here. First, gay male promiscuity is always going to be a high-risk activity because only gay males can have a chain of anal-to-anal transmission of anything. A straight female can have receptive anal intercourse but cannot penetrate. This is what I referred to many years ago during the AIDS hysteria as “a firebreak.”
Second, epidemiologists are entitled to vote however they feel and put up lawn signs for the candidate of their choice. But we must insist that they separate their prejudices from their statistical findings. And as for Dr. Fauci and so many others who have advanced their careers by doing exactly the opposite? A pox on all their houses!
Michael Fumento (www.fumento.com) has been an attorney, author, and science journalist for over 35 years, with much of his work dedicated to epidemic hysteria. His work has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Sunday Times, the Atlantic, and many other fora.