COLORADO SPRINGS — Cases of Monkeypox have now been reported in both El Paso and Pueblo counties. More than 90% of Colorado's 75 cases have been among gay and bisexual men.
State health officials and the CDC are now working to reduce the stigma surrounding the virus. They’re balancing getting the information to communities impacted the most, but also getting information to the general public.
Part of those conversations is also reducing the stigma about Monkeypox and who it affects.
“I just hate that the queer community is forever stigmatized over all kinds of things,” said Raymond Figgee, who lives in El Paso County and is also immunocompromised. “Of course it’s scary. As a single male in the queer community, it gives me yet one more thing to be worried about.”
However, health leaders say, Monkeypox is something everyone needs to educate themselves about, and it’s not a virus that affects just one group of people.
“We really want to balance that message of ‘this can affect anyone, and it's not specific to this group,’” said Dr. Alexis Burakoff, a medical epidemiologist for the Colorado Department of Public Health. “Anyone who comes into contact with somebody with Monkeypox can get Monkeypox.”
Since the beginning of the response, the CDPHE has also been working with organizations that serve the LGBTQ+ community to provide information about monkey pox. They’ve also created informational materials to hand out at pride events state-wide and other large events.
Dr. Burakoff says their education campaign is about spreading information, not fear.
“We’re working closely with partner organizations, especially for folks that are disproportionately affected. Communications has been a huge focus of this response for us so far, and making sure that we get the word out,” said Dr. Burakoff. “We don't want people to be afraid to go out, go shopping, and do all the things that they normally do.”
Right now the state is also focusing their education on what to look for, like signs and symptoms, vaccinations and where to get treatment.
Figgee hopes that education will help reduce the stigma.
“If they educated people on a whole instead of going well, it's this group that group… so that it was just public knowledge and not like fuel to a fire so to speak,” said Figgee.
State health officials expect to continue to see cases rise, but they're also working to push out vaccines and education, to keep as many Coloradans as healthy as possible.
In a statement from Inside Out Youth Services, a spokesperson said, “Singling out groups of people without providing the facts increases risk and stigmatizes vulnerable groups. Unfortunately, this is not the first time the LGBTQIA2+ community has faced this type of false targeting and narrative. Instead of targeting the LGBTQIA2+ community, efforts should be made towards ensuring vaccines are available and accessible to prevent and contain this outbreak.”
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