Experiences of mpox illness and case management among cis and trans gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men in England: a qualitative study

T. Charles Witzel*, Andrew Ghobrial, Romain Palich, Hannah Charles, Alison J. Rodger, Caroline Sabin, Alex Sparrowhawk, Erica R.M. Pool, Mateo Prochazka, Roberto Vivancos, Katy Sinka, Kate Folkard, Fiona M. Burns, John Saunders

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Background: The 2022–2024 global mpox outbreak, occurring primarily in the sexual networks of gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men (GBMSM), has not been accompanied by a focus on patient perspectives of illness. We explore the experiences of GBMSM diagnosed with mpox in England to understand needs for social and clinical support. Methods: In-depth interviews (March/July 2023) were conducted with 22 GBMSM diagnosed with mpox in 2022, randomly selected from a national mpox surveillance database, and 4 stakeholders from clinical/community-based organisations. Interviews covered experiences of illness, testing, diagnosis, treatment and contact tracing, and were recorded, transcribed and analysed with a thematic framework. Findings: Media coverage drawing on homophobic stereotypes around sex between men contributed to feelings of stigma and shame. GBMSM living with HIV appeared to cope better with mpox stigma, drawing on their experiences of being diagnosed with HIV for resilience. Younger GBMSM with less experience of stigmatising illness found mpox diagnosis more traumatic and sometimes required support beyond what was provided. Accessing testing could be complicated when healthcare professionals did not recognise mpox symptoms. Men felt information on course of illness, isolation and vaccination after recovery was often inconsistent and contradictory. GBMSM described that care from sexual health and infectious disease units usually better met their emotional and medical needs. This was frequently linked by men to these services having skills in working with the GBMSM community and managing infection risk sensitively. General hospital services and centralised contact tracing could increase feelings and experiences of stigma as some staff were perceived to lack skills in supporting GBMSM and, sometimes, clinical knowledge. Long-term impacts described by men included mental health challenges, urethral/rectal symptoms and life-changing disability. Interpretation: In this study stigma was a central feature of mpox illness among GBMSM and could be exacerbated or lessened depending on the clinical and social support provided. Involving communities affected by outbreaks in co-producing, planning and delivering care (including contact-tracing) may help improve support provided. Funding: TCW, AJR, AS and FMB received support from the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) under its Programme Grants for Applied Research Programme (Ref: NIHR202038). CS and JS receive support from the National Institute for Health and Care Research Health Protection Research Unit (NIHR HPRU) in Blood Borne and Sexually Transmitted Infections at UCL in partnership with UKHSA; RV receives support from the NIHR HPRU in Emerging and Zoonotic Infections and NIHR HPRU in Gastrointestinal Infections. The views expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the NIHR, UK Health Security Agency, World Health Organization or the Department of Health and Social Care.

Original languageEnglish
Article number102522
JournalEClinicalMedicine
Volume70
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2024

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2024 The Author(s)

Keywords

  • (re)emerging infectious diseases
  • Bisexual and other men who have sex with men
  • Gay
  • Mpox
  • Qualitative research
  • Sexual health
  • Transgender people

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