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Chicago Sees 326 Confirmed Monkeypox Cases As Officials Advise People With Symptoms To Get Tested

Monkeypox has spread quickly around the world, though Chicago has become an "epicenter" of the outbreak in the United States.

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CHICAGO — More than 300 Chicagoans have tested positive for monkeypox as of Wednesday, according to the city’s health department.

Officials are encouraging Chicagoans with symptoms to get tested for the virus; health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady has said cases are likely being significantly undercounted. The city has reported 326 cases in Chicagoans, up from 202 cases Friday, according to a news release.

Anyone can get the virus, which is rarely fatal but can cause a painful rash, among other symptoms. Monkeypox has spread quickly around the world, though Chicago has become an “epicenter” of the outbreak in the United States, Arwady has said.

People can protect themselves by avoiding riskier behaviors like sharing drinks, cigarettes and vape pens, Arwady said in the news release. If having sex with a new partner, people should talk about monkeypox, look for symptoms of the virus on their bodies and avoid skin-to-skin contact if they have rashes, sores or other symptoms until they can get tested, Arwady said.

If a person does have monkeypox, avoid intimate contact with them while they are sick, do not kiss or touch each other’s bodies, do not share food or drinks and do not share items like towels, bedding, clothing, fetish gear, sex toys or toothbrushes, according to the health department.

There is a higher likelihood of spreading the virus in enclosed spaces where there is minimal or no clothing and where intimate or sexual contact occurs, including in backrooms, saunas and sex clubs, according to the city health department.

The risk at clubs and festivals is “very low,” but people who are concerned should consider how much skin-to-skin contact they’d have at an event, and they should avoid touching rashes or sores on people and minimize skin-to-skin contact, according to the health department.

People with symptoms of the virus should get tested immediately, Arwady said. Testing is available around the city.

The city is vaccinating close contacts of people who test positive for monkeypox to prevent the virus from spreading. Vaccines remain limited, though the city is working on getting more, Arwady has said.

Here’s what you need to know:

What Is Monkeypox?

Monkeypox is a rare disease caused by the monkeypox virus. Some officials are referring to monkeypox as MPV to help with destigmatization.

Monkeypox is rarely fatal, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But the disease can be painful and dangerous, said David Ernesto Munar, president and CEO of Howard Brown Health. About 5 percent of the roughly 200 Chicagoans who have been diagnosed with monkeypox have been hospitalized with the disease, Arwady said.

Monkeypox has been around since the 1950s and is not new, Arwady said. But monkeypox cases are typically only seen in western Africa in people who have been exposed to the virus in rodents, she said.

What is new about the 2022 outbreak is officials are seeing it globally and have seen it spread between people, often through “close, often intimate contact, especially when people develop sores,” Arwady said.

Monkeypox typically lasts two to four weeks, according to the CDC.

“I want to emphasize this is not COVID, but this is absolutely something to take seriously and to make sure we are getting protection where it is most needed,” Arwady said.

How Monkeypox Spreads

The virus can spread through person-to-person contact, officials said.

According to the CDC, monkeypox can spread through:

  • Someone coming into direct contact with a person’s infectious rash, scabs or body fluids.
  • Someone coming into contact with an infected person’s respiratory secretions during prolonged, face-to-face contact or during intimate physical contact, including through kissing, cuddling and sex.
  • Someone touching items — including clothing or linens — that previously touched a person’s infectious rash or body fluids.
  • A fetus can be infected if a pregnant person gets monkeypox.

Infected animals can also spread monkeypox to people in a variety of scenarios. For example, an infected animal could scratch or bite a person, or a person could eat an infected animal’s meat or products, according to the CDC.

Monkeypox can spread from the time an infected person shows symptoms until their rash has healed and they no longer show symptoms, according to the CDC. People who don’t have symptoms can’t spread the virus.

Who Can Get Monkeypox?

Anyone can get monkeypox.

In Chicago, most cases have been diagnosed in men — in particular, men who have sex with men, Arwady said. But that’s largely because spread of the virus is easier in tight-knit social networks, she said; there is nothing specific about being part of the LGBTQ+ community that makes someone more susceptible to monkeypox.

RELATED: ‘Do People Outside The LGBTQ+ Community Got Skin?’: Experts Fight Monkeypox Stigma

The majority of Chicago’s monkeypox cases have been found on the North Side, Arwady said, but that’s possibly because residents there might have more awareness and are able to access testing and get diagnosed.

“Every day, we’re seeing additional cases detected that are not on the North Side,” Arwady said.

Credit: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Forms of the monkeypox rash.

Symptoms Of Monkeypox

The defining symptom of monkeypox is a rash that can take several weeks to heal and can go through stages as it heals, experts said.

The rash might look like pimples or blisters that can appear on a person’s face, face, hands, chest, genitals or anus, according to the CDC and experts.

The rash can also be internal, making it difficult for people to go to the bathroom, eat or drink, Munar said.

The rash can be “very painful, excruciatingly painful,” Munar said.

Some people may only experience the rash, while others will develop other symptoms, experts said. Other symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Muscle aches and backache
  • Swollen lymph nodes, including in the neck and groin
  • Chills
  • Exhaustion and malaise

“Often, people have flu-like symptoms and then rashes that can look like a blister, like a pimple and can be very painful,” Arwady said.

Anyone with symptoms should seek medical care to get tested, experts said.

What Should You Do If You Think You Have Monkeypox?

People who think they have monkeypox should isolate from others, limit skin-to-skin contact with other people and be careful not to share bedding, towels or other linens, Munar said.

Anyone who has a new, unexplained rash should avoid sex or being intimate until they’ve been checked out by a medical professional, Arwady said.

People who think they have monkeypox should seek medical care to get tested.

How To Get Tested For Monkeypox

Go to a health care provider to get tested for monkeypox. Tests are not available over the counter.

Testing is widespread and available in most doctor’s offices and medical settings, Arwady said. A medical professional will run a swab over a person’s rash to test for monkeypox.

People who don’t have a health care provider can call the city health department at 312-746-4835 to get connected to care, Arwady said.

“We really want you to get tested regardless of whatever you’re concerned about,” Arwady said. “See your doctor if you’ve got a rash and you can get tested.”

How To Get Vaccinated Against Monkeypox In Chicago

Vaccines remain limited for the time being and demand has been high. Only some health care providers have vaccines due to the low supply of them.

Local, state and federal officials are working to bring more doses to Chicago and the rest of the United States, Arwady said.

“We will continue to work together to make sure the vaccine reaches our South, West and North sides equitably so all of Chicago benefits from its use,” said Dr. Stockton Mayer, an expert on infectious diseases with the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Where you can get vaccinated:

  • Touché, 6412 N. Clark St., is hosting a Pox Vax Party 9 p.m. Friday. At least 100 vaccine doses will be offered on a first-come, first-served basis, according to its website. Those who attend can ask questions about monkeypox during a short presentation or speak to health care professionals privately. 
  • The Test Positive Aware Network clinic, 5537 N. Broadway, is distributing vaccines 2-6 p.m. Mondays until further notice, according to the organization’s website.
  • Howard Brown Health is booked for weeks, but people in need can call 773-388-1600 to try to make a vaccination appointment.
  • Call the city health department at 312-746-4835 for help.

The vaccine is two shots that are taken several weeks apart, and it takes about two weeks for full protection to kick in, Arwady said.

Who Can Get Vaccinated Against Monkeypox In Chicago

Because vaccines are limited at this time, the city’s health department is trying to limit them for people who are most at risk from the virus.

Here’s who is eligible in Chicago:

  • Anyone who has had close contact with someone diagnosed with monkeypox. There are not restrictions for people in this group.
  • Gay, bisexual or other men (cis or trans) who have sex with men and who have at least one of these risk factors:
    – Intimate or sexual contact with other men in a social or sexual venue
    – Multiple or anonymous partners
    – Give or receive money or other goods or services in exchange for sex.

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