Monkeypox Scotland: Linda Bauld says disease shows attitudes to outbreaks have changed after Covid

The monkeypox outbreak shows how attitudes to new or little-known diseases have changed in the wake of Covid, public health expert Linda Bauld has said.

It comes after two more cases of the virus were identified in Scotland, bringing the total to three.

Public Health Scotland medical and public health science director Dr Nick Phin has said the risk to the public is low, and stressed this is not “Covid two”.

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Prof Bauld, Bruce and John Usher Professor of Public Health at Edinburgh University, said members of the public were more interested in this virus than they would have been before the pandemic, which she said was a good thing.

Picture: PA MediaPicture: PA Media
Picture: PA Media

“It's always better to overreact than under-react in public health,” she said.

But it is a “fine balance”, she said, adding: “We don't want people to feel anxious or worried unnecessarily.”

The Covid pandemic has improved several areas of public health, Prof Bauld said, with information-sharing now more efficient.

This means details about new public health issues get to the public sooner, which may make them seem more urgent.

There have also been negative impacts.

“From a behavioural perspective, people are perhaps unnecessarily worried because they know that viruses are a threat and they've seen the real consequences, not just for health, but for livelihoods [of Covid],” she said.

“So I think there is a panic reflex and social media amplifies that.”

Prof Bauld urged people not to be overly concerned about monkeypox.

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“Keep yourself accurately informed, and recognise that this is not another Covid, and that public health authorities are confident about routes to management,” she said.

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“There are scientific questions around the virus itself, but I don't think we should treat it the same way as Covid.

“People shouldn't panic, but should feel reassured that close attention is being paid to it, relevant organisations are taking appropriate action, and people who are affected, which is small numbers at the moment and likely to continue to not be on the scale that it was with Covid, will get the support that they need.”

Prof Bauld also warned against stigma associated with the virus, comparing it to stigma around imported variants of Covid.

“It's been reported that most of the cases are in males aged 20 to 50, and many of them are men who have sex with men,” she said.

“That's again raised the issue of stigma.

“We saw that early in the pandemic with people coming from south-east Asia, and some incidents of people being fearful of people who were visibly from those countries, which was totally inappropriate.”

The physical symptoms of monkeypox, including blisters and scabs, can also lead to stigma, Prof Bauld said.

While “health literacy” has improved during the pandemic, with members of the public understanding more about epidemiology, it is no longer the top priority for many people, Prof Bauld said. She pointed to opinion surveys showing many were more concerned about the cost of living.

But she said she believed the profound impact of the pandemic on people’s attitudes to other diseases would continue to be felt for the next few years.



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