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HEALTH

How Spain’s gay community has taken action as monkeypox spreads

Whether it's abstinence, avoiding nightclubs, limiting sexual partners or pushing for a swift vaccine rollout, Spain's gay community are on the front line of the monkeypox virus and are taking action.

How Spain's gay community has taken action as monkeypox spreads
A file photograph showing doses of the Imvanex vaccine used to protect against Monkeypox virus. Photo: Alain JOCARD / POOL / AFP

“With this monkey thing, I prefer to be careful… I don’t have sex any more, I don’t go to parties any more, and that’s until I’m vaccinated and have some immunity,” said Antonio, a 35-year-old from Madrid who declined to give his surname.

Antonio, who often went to nightclubs and sometimes to sex parties, decided to act as cases continued to increase.

Spain on Saturday reported its second monkeypox-related death.

Outside of Africa, the only other such death has been in Brazil.

More than 18,000 cases have been detected throughout the world outside of Africa since the beginning of May, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Spain is one of the world’s worst-hit countries. The country’s health ministry’s emergency and alert coordination centre put the number of infected people at 4,298.

As cases increase globally, the WHO has called on the group currently most affected by the virus — men who have sex with men — to limit their sexual partners.

READ ALSO: WHO expects more monkeypox-related deaths in Europe

Before going on holiday abroad, one holidaymaker said he would avoid “risky situations”.

“I didn’t go to sex clubs anymore and I didn’t have sex either,” the 38-year-old explained.

“This is not like Covid, the vaccine already exists, there’s no need to invent it. If it wasn’t a queer disease, we would have acted more – and faster,” said Antonio.

Like other members of the gay community, he believes the authorities have not done enough.

NGOs have denounced a lack of prevention, a shortage of vaccines and stigmatisation linked to the virus.

This is despite the WHO declaring the monkeypox outbreak a global health emergency.

Early signs of the disease include a high fever, swollen lymph glands and a chickenpox-like rash.

The disease usually heals by itself after two to three weeks, sometimes taking a month.

A smallpox vaccine from Danish drug maker Bavarian Nordic, marketed under the name Jynneos in the United States and Imvanex in Europe, has been found to protect against monkeypox.

It took Antonio three weeks to get an appointment to be vaccinated, after logging on to the official website every day at midnight.

Appointments “are going as fast as tickets to the next Beyonce concert”, another joked referring to the gay icon.

So far, Spain has only received 5,300 doses which arrived in late June.

The Spanish health ministry declined to comment when contacted by AFP.

Nahum Cabrera of the FELGTBI+ NGO, an umbrella group of over 50 LGBTQ organisations from all over Spain, insists there is an urgent need to vaccinate those most at risk.

That means not just gay men, but anyone who has “regular sex with multiple partners, as well as those who frequent swingers’ clubs, LGTBI saunas etc”, he said.

“It risks creating a false sense of security among the general population, and they relax into thinking that they are safe and that it only happens to men who have sex with men,” he said.

The target age group for vaccination is those aged between 18 and 46, he added.

Older people are vaccinated against smallpox which was eradicated in Europe in the early 1970s.

“We are facing a health emergency… that affects the LGBTI community, so people think it is insignificant, that it is not serious,” said Ivan Zaro, of the Imagina MAS (Imagine More) NGO.

“This is exactly what happened 40 years ago with HIV.

Image director Javier spent three days in hospital in early July after becoming infected. 

After three weeks in isolation, a challenge after the pressures of Covid, he told his family and friends.

The 32-year-old, who is in a monogamous relationship, said he still did not know how he had caught it.

“I warn everyone,” he said. “It’s an infectious disease, anyone can catch it.”

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HEALTH

UV Index: Where in Spain you have to take extra care with sun exposure

We all know that too much sun can cause health problems, but there are particular places in Spain where the UV Index is higher than others and you need to be particularly careful. Read on to find out where.

UV Index: Where in Spain you have to take extra care with sun exposure

Spaniards and indeed foreign residents in Spain spend a lot of time in the sun, particularly at the beach in summer, and sunbathing is a popular pastime.

While it’s obviously not a good idea to be sunbathing during the hottest part of the day anywhere in Spain, there are some places that are worse than others.

When the sun shines, it emits radiation and one of the most dangerous is ultraviolet radiation. While ultraviolet radiation is not harmful in low doses, it can cause skin damage after long and intense exposure.

The UV Index measures the amount of ultraviolet radiation that reaches the earth’s surface and alerts people to the risk that the sun poses to our health on a daily basis.

The Canary Islands have the highest UV Index out of all the regions in Spain, meaning that if you live there or are thinking of going on holiday there, you should take extra precautions in the sun.

A UV Index level of 8 to 10, as well as anything above 10 is considered to be very high and extremely dangerous.

The Canary Islands consistently record UV Index levels 2 or 3 points above the rest of Spain and in some parts of the day up to four points above.

UV Index levels change throughout the day and reach their highest from about 1pm – 4pm, when you have to take extra care.

For example, on Friday August 12th the UV Index for the hottest part of the day in most of mainland Spain hovers around 7-9, whereas in the Canary Islands it reaches 11-13.

According to Canarian dermatologist Dr. Paula Aguayo, one in five canaries could be at risk from skin cancer throughout their lives due to inadequate sun protection.  

She recommends that people in the Canary Islands avoid the sun between midday and 6pm, use broad-spectrum sunscreens which protect against ultraviolet A and ultraviolet B radiation and a sunscreen with a factor not lower than 30. “ In fact, it is preferable to use factor 50,” she says.

The regions in Spain that typically have the least amount of UV are located along the northern coast, places such as Galicia, Cantabria, Asturias and the Basque Country.

When the UV Index is anywhere from 6 upwards, experts recommend:

  • Avoiding direct sun exposure during the hottest part of the day and always keeping to the shade.
  • Wearing sunglasses with adequate UV protection as well as a hat.
  • Covering your skin and applying sunscreen with a high factor to the parts that are exposed. It is recommended to put cream on in the house before you go out into the sun and to always reapply it after swimming, even if it’s a waterproof sunscreen.
  • Drinking lots of water – In the sun and heat, the skin becomes dehydrated and this aggravates skin aging caused by ultraviolet rays.

Be sun safe even on cloudy days

The UV Index is usually lower on cloudy days, but even so, solar radiation can penetrate through the clouds.  According to scientists, even if the sky is completely covered, 40 percent of the sun’s radiation can still reach earth, so even if it doesn’t feel so hot, you still need to remember your sun protection.

Take extra care in the mountains  

Those heading to the mountains instead of the coast this summer should take extra care from the sun as the UV Index can reach its highest in places of high altitude and you risk being exposed to more radiation.

Mount Teide on the Canary Island of Tenerife and the highest mountain in Spain is one of the worst places for getting sunburnt. Up here, in summer there are around 12 hours of sun a day.

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