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With the legacy of HIV/AIDS still casting a long shadow in the collective LGBT memory, plus the not-over-yet Covid-19 pandemic, it’s not too much of a surprise that news of the monkeypox outbreak, chiefly among men who have sex with men, is not exactly being welcomed with open arms.

But there is far more good news than bad, so let’s put everything in perspective and separate the facts from the sensationalised fiction.

Monkeypox vs. smallpox

Many of us have heard monkeypox and smallpox mentioned in the same breath and, without digging deeper, this can set the alarm bells ringing. It is true that both diseases are from the same family but that really doesn’t mean much; after all, the common cold is a type of coronavirus and, as the world has found out to its cost over the past two years or so, that means very little.

But in the case of the relationship between smallpox and monkeypox, the similarity is actually helpful, as UK scientists have worked out that the smallpox vaccine works on monkeypox, which is great news as there is no specific monkeypox vaccine. Let’s be clear though: smallpox is a horrible disease that has pretty-much been eradicated but it’s so deadly that we keep a stock of vaccines just in case it should ever make an unwelcome return. Monkeypox is unsightly and unpleasant but almost always mild.

To borrow the vernacular of the 1980s, monkeypox is most definitely not a “gay disease”. It can, however, be transmitted during sexual activity and as more gay men than women or straight men take part in group sex, sex with multiple partners or what the UK Health Security Agency calls “sex on premises” – saunas, sex clubs and so on – there is a much higher risk of transmission. 

Getting vaccinated

If your health records indicate that you are in a high-risk group, then you will be contacted. However, if you’re concerned and think you need to be vaccinated, do not contact your GP. Instead, the NHS is distributing vaccines via a network of sexual-health clinics. Find your nearest one here:


It normally takes between a few days and three weeks for symptoms to appear. Initially, you may experience some or all of the following:

  • high temperature
  • headache
  • muscle aches
  • backache
  • swollen glands
  • shivering (chills)
  • exhaustion

Of course, any of the above could be nothing more than mild flu or just a cold, so there’s unlikely to be much to worry about if you’ve not been in intimate contact with anyone for the previous 21 days or so. However, if a rash that looks a bit like chickenpox appears up to five days after your first symptoms – so look out for spots which become blisters before turning into scabs – and especially if you’ve been sharing bodily fluids, you may have succumbed. As we’ve said before, monkeypox is mild with most people making a full recovery. We all know how to behave with transmissible diseases because of Covid-19 regulations: in other words, isolate! However, if your symptoms turn more severe or you’re in a high-risk group, contact your GP or call 111.

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