The overwhelming majority of monkeypox cases in Georgia have been made up of Black men, according to the state’s public health department.
Nancy Nydam, spokesperson for the Georgia Department of Public Health, confirmed to Capital B Atlanta that 82% of the more than 500 monkeypox cases are Black men.
“The percentage speaks for itself,” Nydam said. “We are definitely seeing a trend of positive cases among gay or bisexual Black men who have sex with men.”
Georgia is in the top five states for the number of monkeypox cases, behind Florida, Illinois, California, and New York. Unlike COVID-19, which is airborne, monkeypox spreads from prolonged human-to-human contact or from handling clothing or bedding of an infected person. This includes activities like kissing, cuddling, or touching parts of the body with monkeypox sores.
It’s unclear if the trend is unique to Georgia or metro Atlanta. Nydam pointed to New York City, for example, where those affected have been mostly Latino and white people.
Justin Smith, the director of the Campaign to End AIDS at the Positive Impact Health Center in Atlanta, said there’s already been problematic stigma tied to the virus and gay and bisexual Black men. Monkeypox is not classified as a sexually transmitted disease.
“It undermines the community that’s affected, and it impacts their ability to trust what public health authorities are saying,” Smith said. “And it also gives the larger public a sense that this isn’t something that I need to worry about, which is also not often the case.”
Dr. Frita Fisher, an Atlanta-based physician who produces video explainers addressing community health concerns, says she worries the messaging will cause people outside of the community to not take precautions.
“I’m afraid that people will think it’s a gay man’s disease or a Black gay man’s disease,” she said.
Nydam didn’t have a specific answer for why the new outbreak of monkeypox, which typically isn’t present in the United States, is disproportionately affecting Black men in Georgia. On Tuesday, the first woman in Georgia tested positive for monkeypox. So far, no cases of children contracting monkeypox have been reported in the state.
Georgia is working to increase distribution of monkeypox vaccines, but supplies have been severely limited. On top of that, demand has far outpaced what’s available.
Nydam said the DPH has received 6,000 vaccine doses, and will soon get an additional 7,800. In the metro Atlanta area, Cobb, Fulton, DeKalb, and Gwinnett counties have all begun distributing vaccines, but just hundreds at a time.
In Gwinnett, health department spokesperson Chad Wadsin said that all 300 appointments for the county’s most recent vaccination event were taken within minutes. Wadsin said they have distributed just under 1,000 vaccine doses. In DeKalb, all appointments for an upcoming vaccination event were taken.
So far, no deaths resulting from monkeypox have been reported in the most recent outbreak in the United States. Experts say most people recover from the disease in about two weeks.