Bob Lonsberry

Bob Lonsberry

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        I’m not a rainbow-flag waver, and I don’t wear an Ally sticker at the state fair, but wouldn’t saving gay lives be a good thing to do during pride month?

               Sure, the parades and speeches and virtue signaling are nice, I guess, but if you really care about gay men, maybe you should care about their health.

               Gay men are currently the focused target of a newly mutated virus called monkeypox. Long known in Africa, the disease has changed its very nature – from symptoms to means of transmission – and it is moving like a brush fire through communities of gay men in Europe and the United States.

               The number of confirmed cases in New York City has doubled in each of the last two weeks, and cases have now been confirmed in Erie, Chemung and St. Lawrence counties upstate. It is only a matter of time until monkeypox is found in Monroe and Onondaga counties – the homes of Rochester and Syracuse.

               Which means that right now is when people ought to be in high gear, working on prevention and containment. If the public health, medical and gay communities wait until cases start popping up, it will be too late. Once a virus is out of the bag, you are at its mercy.

               And here’s why that’s bad: Monkeypox can kill you.

               Yes, its current variant seems more benign than its African parent – where as many as 10 percent of those infected can die. But with its exact nature being an unknown, and the potential for lethality undeniable, this is not something to mess with.

               And those who want to downplay it out of fear of stigma or bias attaching to gay people are nuts. Viruses are viruses, they don’t care who you are. You don’t invite them, they are not a punishment from God, they are biological organisms obeying a Darwinian imperative.

               And if you don’t get them, they will get you.

               The covid experience – a catastrophe of government mismanagement – showed us that the time to control the spread of a virus is before it is established in a community. By the time Rochester or Syracuse have confirmed monkeypox cases, the virus will already be established in the community – Pandora’s Box will be opened and people will be sickened.

               Proactive is always better than reactive, especially when you’re talking about an unknown and potentially deadly virus.

               Covid also taught us that the more people infected, the faster the mutation of the virus. And while the virus now seems mostly benign – except for discomfort and potential scarring – and focused on gay men, the more it spreads the more it may mutate and its nature and means of transmission could change, again. And what it changes into, given the 10% death rate in Africa, is not something we want to play with.

        A disease that mutated into narrower transmission and lower lethality can also mutate into broader transmission and higher lethality. 

        Right now, focused education and information -- and vaccination -- can stop an outbreak before it begins. There is a choke point of transmission -- sexual intimacies between men -- and interceding at that choke point can slow or stop the spread of monkeypox. 

        At the least, that will protect gay men from infection and sickness; at the most, that will protect the broader society from a new and uncertain virus. Either way, we all win, and the right thing gets done.

        But the time for action is now.

        Rehashing blah-blah-blah about the latest covid strain is yesterday's epidemic; stopping monkeypox before it begins is today's.

        And if all this rainbow-flag waving is sincere, if this society truly has esteem for gay people, then the most useful thing it can do is protect their health and wellbeing. In a somber flashback to a generation ago, there is a virus with a tendency to target gay men. Back then, society and the medical establishment were slow to react, and horror followed.

        This virus isn't that virus, thank God. But it is a virus. And it isn't to be taken lightly.

        And we can't repeat the mistakes of a generation ago.

        We need focused public awareness for gay men, we need to demand -- from whatever source -- monkeypox vaccinations for upstate cities, we need the public health and medical communities to be better prepared than they were during covid, and we need to show that we're taking this seriously.

         And we need all of that now.

         Because another week or two could be too late. 

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