Public health officials have been raising concerns about a monkeypox outbreak that has reached 790 cases in the United States, including 32 cases in Massachusetts, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The disease is caused by a virus similar to smallpox, but it rarely leads to death. CDC researchers estimate that more than 99% of people infected in this outbreak will recover. Still, symptoms can be painful, including a rash that looks like pimples or blisters, fever, headache and fatigue. People with a higher risk of severe illness include those with weakened immune systems, a history of eczema, people who are pregnant or breastfeeding, or children under 8.
There is a vaccine for monkeypox, though doses are currently limited to people who is known or presumed to have had contact with a monkeypox patient.
Adrianna Boulin, the director of community impact and engagement at Fenway Health, said education is key at this point of the outbreak. Fenway Health is working with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, the Boston Public Health Commission and national partners on outreach.
"By coming in contact with an infected animal, person, or material, you may be at risk," Boulin said on GBH's Morning Edition. "It's important for folks to just be aware of those clear facts about all the ways in which you may come in contact with it."
Many of the cases in this outbreak have occurred among gay and bisexual men. Boulin explained that many of those cases can be traced to two large gatherings in Europe, and some of the early language used to refer to the monkeypox outbreak was stigmatizing because the virus was showing up in the queer community.
"In the same way where COVID-19 outbreak happened among a Christian church choir in Washington State or at the biotech conference here in Boston, outbreaks can happen among communities in certain populations," she said. "It's important to be clear about that so as to be supportive of the community that's having the current outbreak and also not to be stigmatizing."
Boulin added that health care professionals are applying lessons learned from the AIDS crisis.
"The AIDS crisis really showed us how not to add to the harm that was already being experienced in our already marginalized community," she said, "and how more energy being put toward the research and being put toward the care and being put toward everyone feeling affirmed is really what will allow us to control the outbreak and epidemic."