Monkeypox data reveals disproportionate impact on LGBTQ community

As cases of monkeypox spread rapidly across California, the virus is taking an unequal toll on gay and bisexual men, according to new data released Friday by the state Department of Public Health.

The figures show that of the cases for which data is available, 91.7% of all patients who tested positive for monkeypox were gay and 5.6% were bisexual; men account for more than 98% of all cases. Transgender and gender non-binary people make up 1% of cases.

Although the virus has been known for weeks to spread rapidly on LGBTQ social media, the state had yet to release such data on the infection.

LGBTQ advocates say releasing the data will help bolster their demands for a more urgent federal and state response. Showing the severity of the epidemic in the gay and trans community could also inform how the state distributes vaccines and shapes public education campaigns and other relief efforts.

“Knowing who is getting sick and which groups are disproportionately affected is so important because it will help guide the public health response,” said State Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco. “Without this data, we are flying blind in terms of public health response.”

The data California includes is demographic information about sexual orientation for about 70% of the 786 patients who tested positive statewide. There are no such data for other patients who tested positive.

It also shows how the virus has had a disproportionate impact, both racially and generationally.

Hispanic or Latino people account for nearly 36% of infections, although they make up less than 19% of the population, according to available data on race and ethnicity. That means Latinos are nearly three times more likely than whites to contract the virus, relative to their share of the state’s population, with 3.2 cases per 100,000 people, compared to 1.2 cases for Whites.

Nearly 75% of infections occurred in people between the ages of 25 and 44. Health officials say the infection spreads fastest in people with multiple recent sexual partners.

The numbers show Los Angeles has seen the most cases, at 261, and San Francisco is close behind with 257.

State officials released the data a day after San Francisco declared a state of public health emergency in response to the growing spread of the virus. The city has seen at least 281 people infected with monkeypox, although there are likely to be many more unrecognized cases due to a lack of readily available tests and a lack of awareness among many healthcare providers. to the virus.

The crisis has been exacerbated by a shortage of available vaccines. So far, city officials said they have received about 8,200 doses of the Jynneos vaccine, intended to prevent monkeypox and smallpox in adults. City officials estimate they need 70,000 doses.

Friday’s release of monkeypox data is significant for the LGBTQ community because it’s the first time the state has publicly released such data in response to the early stages of a public health crisis.

In 2020, state lawmakers passed a law that requires the state to ask patients who are tested for possible exposure to infectious diseases about their sexual orientation and gender identity. California already collects data on the race, age and sex of patients tested for the more than 90 communicable diseases it tracks. Patients can refuse to answer the question.

Wiener proposed the measure, SB932, in response to the state not tracking the toll of COVID-19 on the community. He said it was aimed at ending decades of ignoring LGBTQ people in the government’s response to health crises.

California has been collecting information on LGBTQ people infected with monkeypox for weeks, but state officials previously refused to release the data. The Department of Public Health told The Chronicle earlier this week that it had not released it “due to patient confidentiality concerns”. There has also been debate within the LGBTQ community about whether this data stigmatizes people.

Monkeypox in the Bay Area

On Friday, the head of the Department of Public Health, Tomás Aragón, said his team was committed to addressing the stigma of the LGBTQ community, “which has been singled out and treated unfairly.”

“No individual or community is to blame for the spread of a virus,” he told reporters on a conference call. “Monkey pox can affect anyone and is spread through skin-to-skin contact, as well as sharing objects such as clothing, bedding and towels.”

Wiener, who is gay, said he strongly disagrees with any argument that publishing demographic data about communities affected by monkeypox infections is harmful.

“It’s just ridiculous and it fuels the idea that being gay is this dirty private thing that we shouldn’t talk about in public,” he said. “We want information. We want to know what is happening in our community.

Gay and transgender advocates have widely lambasted what they see as a slow federal and state response to monkeypox. Many likened the situation to the early days of the AIDS pandemic, when gay and bisexual men died in the tens of thousands while the government was largely unaware of the spread of the virus.

LGBTQ leaders demanded that the state and federal government declare a public health emergency in response to monkeypox, a move that would access funds to fight the virus and increase public awareness.

While California does not plan to declare a statewide health emergency, Aragón said Friday that the state “will continue to review everything” as the virus spreads. He said the systems of state COVID efforts have facilitated the response to monkeypox and are doing things like creating a vaccine registry.

“We are carefully considering whether we need to make an official declaration of emergency, to see what additional authority or resources that can mobilize,” Aragón said. “We are in a much better position to be able to deal with monkeypox than if it had happened two years ago.”

Wiener and other Democratic state lawmakers are negotiating a budget bill to increase state spending on testing, vaccinations and contact tracing. They also have applied for federal permission spend COVID-related funds on the monkeypox response.

San Francisco’s state of emergency, declared by Mayor London Breed, goes into effect Monday. Breed said the move “will allow us to continue to support our most at risk, while better preparing for what’s to come.”

Monkeypox typically causes flu-like symptoms, along with a rash and dense, fluid-filled lesions. The virus is transmitted through intimate personal contact, including sexual acts and kissing. It can also be spread by sharing bedding or clothing, or potentially by breathing in close proximity.

Although many cases resolve on their own, monkeypox can be very painful and, in rare cases, can lead to serious illness.

Dustin Gardiner and Yoohyun Jung are staff writers for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email:, Twitter: @dustingardiner@@yoohyun_jung

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