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Study Reveals Stigma Faced by Gay and Bisexual Men Diagnosed with Mpox

A recent British study sheds light on the challenges faced by gay and bisexual men diagnosed with mpox during the 2022 outbreak, highlighting not only the physical toll of the illness but also the stigma, homophobia, and shame experienced by many individuals.

Mpox, primarily transmitted through skin-to-skin contact, affected a significant number of men who have sex with men during the outbreak. Despite the availability of a vaccine approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration since 2019, the outbreak resulted in substantial morbidity and mortality, with over 3,700 confirmed cases in the United Kingdom alone.

Led by Dr. Charles Witzel from the University College London (UCL) Institute for Global Health, the study involved in-depth interviews with 22 gay and bisexual men diagnosed with mpox. The interviews explored their experiences with the illness and interactions with healthcare services, including testing, diagnosis, treatment, and contact tracing.

The findings revealed profound mental distress among the patients, exacerbated by sensationalized media coverage perpetuating homophobic stereotypes. Many participants expressed feelings of stigma and shame, compounded by insensitive and unsupportive interactions with healthcare providers. Some reported experiencing discrimination even within healthcare settings, with staff lacking essential knowledge about mpox and exhibiting insensitivity towards LGBTQ+ patients.

Dr. Witzel emphasized the role of stigma in shaping the mpox experience, underscoring the importance of healthcare services sensitive to the unique needs of gay and bisexual men. While specialized sexual health clinics and infection disease units demonstrated greater inclusivity, other hospital services, particularly those less accustomed to caring for LGBTQ+ individuals, fell short in providing adequate support, leading to further experiences of stigma.

Moreover, patients highlighted inconsistencies in pain management and challenges in accessing reliable information about the illness, particularly during the early stages of the outbreak. Lingering symptoms, including urinary and rectal issues requiring specialist management, underscored the long-term impact of mpox on individuals' health and well-being.

Co-author Alison Rodger stressed the need for comprehensive aftercare, including access to long-term psychological support, to address the emotional toll of surviving mpox.

The study, published in eClinicalMedicine, calls for greater community involvement in developing and delivering support services for individuals affected by emerging infectious diseases, emphasizing the importance of holistic care that considers both physical and mental health needs.

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