NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — As monkeypox continues to spread, local LGBTQ+ community leaders worry current messaging could mislead the public.

Public health officials identified gay and bisexual men as having higher rates of contracting monkeypox than others, but some community leaders say identifying this group explicitly may misinform people about key details of the virus.

LGBT Life Center CEO Stacie Walls says some of the rhetoric used about monkeypox mirrors rhetoric used at the beginning of the AIDS epidemic.

“I think that should be the lesson that we learned particularly from the HIV epidemic, let’s be more proactive,” she said.

LGBTQ+ community leaders say proactive, not reactive, care should be highlighted as monkeypox spreads, but leaders say now’s the time to use lessons from the AIDS epidemic as this new virus surfaces.

“It doesn’t have the same outcome as HIV, but it doesn’t mean that there’s no stigma associated with your sexual behaviors. And so let’s not, let’s take the stigma away and center them and protect them and treat them and we will have a much better outcome than we did with HIV,” said Walls.

Unlike COVID-19, the monkeypox vaccine so far is only available to those who think they’ve been exposed to it. Some cities have even said they’re running low on supplies of the vaccine.

So, the best way to protect communities at risk is to have conversations.

“The World Health Organization has identified this as a public health emergency and so that should spur conversation. That should spur conversation that if you are having sex with multiple partners, you should have a conversation with them,” she said.

Part of the conversation comes with understanding the virus and how it’s spread.

“This is not a sexually transmitted disease and it’s something that is spread through skin-to-skin contact. So even if you don’t have sex, if you have cuddling,” she said.

The biggest takeaway is that anyone can contract the virus and mistakes made in the past can serve as present-day lessons.

“That’s a trauma that we can avoid. We really can. We can just make testing, vaccines, and treatment very accessible and people don’t have to then live in that space mentally. They can just access care,” she said.

Many of the symptoms of monkeypox are the same as COVID-19 or the flu, but the rash is a tell-tale sign.

If you think you’ve been exposed, call your doctor and the health department at 757-518-2700.

The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services has information about monkeypox here.

They’re also hosting a town hall to discuss monkeypox on July 28.