What’s going on with monkeypox? Usually if I want to know what the conspiracy theorists are saying, I look at the comments on a website below the line. If I want to know what the official line is, I read the articles above the line. Monkeypox seems to have turned this on its head. An article by Michael Simmons in the Spectator on May 23rd asked, “Did monkeypox leak from Wuhan?” and concluded, “The initial evidence suggests not.” I’ve seen other articles asking whether the vaccines or Covid has sparked into life an, until now, dormant virus being carried by various people. The NHS has started warning people to take extra precautions, a degree of fear and concern is undeniably being created. Yet, monkeypox seems to be a not especially contagious viral infection that isn’t particularly dangerous.
Something that became all too apparent during the Covid panic was the failure of either the general population or most of the media to put things in context. We’re seeing the same again with the monkeypox scare. The Spectator published this table on May 23rd showing that in this recent scare there have been to date 56 cases of monkeypox in England and 170 worldwide.
Monkeypox has been making the headlines for about 10 days, so we’ve been seeing about five cases a day. Is this a lot, is it growing, is it something people should be worried about? Is it just because we’re looking? Without context we’ve no way of judging these things.
We’re told that monkeypox isn’t classified as a sexually transmitted disease because it can be transmitted through other forms of close contact. That said, the cases to date have primarily involved gay and bisexual men who, it would appear, have contracted the virus through sexual activity. Consequently, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to compare the prevalence of monkeypox with data for various other conditions that are classified as STIs.
The following figures come from a Public Health England report, “Sexually transmitted infections and screening for chlamydia in England, 2019“.
The report tells us that in 2019 there were 468,342 initial diagnoses of STIs. That works out at 1,283 per day, 365 days per year. Compared to 2018, the total number of new STIs diagnosed in 2019 increased by 20,820 or 5% (from 447,522 to 468,342), an average increase of 57 per day. Why isn’t this news? 250 times more people contract an STI everyday than appear to contract monkeypox.
The increase in the total number of new STIs was due to a large increase in gonorrhoea (26%; from 56,232 to 70,936) and more moderate increases in syphilis (primary, secondary and early latent stages: 10%; from 7,260 to 7,982), chlamydia (5%; from 218,881 to 229,411) and genital herpes (2%; from 33,734 to 34,570) diagnoses.
The report also identified rapid increases in STIs contracted by gay and bisexual men over recent years. Clearly, if you wanted to whip up a degree of concern about various groups indulging in risky sexual behaviour there’s plenty of material to work with. What’s so special about monkeypox?
In 2019, almost 200 people contracted gonorrhoea every day. Gonorrhoea is pretty nasty, fairly infectious, widespread and on the increase.
What’s so special about monkeypox? It’s in circulation in parts of Africa, we’ve had small outbreaks before, it’s not unusual for people to travel between Europe and Africa. Is there something we’re not being told? The Spectator speculates on a Wuhan connection, the NHS seems to be doing nothing to dampen alarm. Are we being encouraged to see conspiracies where none exist?
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