File photo Credit: Pexels/Polina Tankilevitch

CHICAGO — Monkeypox has been named a public health emergency for Illinois, and the state is a disaster area for the disease, Gov. JB Pritzker announced Monday.

Pritzker’s proclamation began immediately and will last for at least 30 days. It allows state agencies to better coordinate with the federal and local governments to respond to the monkeypox outbreak. It will also raise awareness of the quickly spreading virus, which is rarely fatal but can cause a painful and infectious rash.

With the state of disaster order in place, the Illinois Department of Public Health will help with distributing vaccines and in preventing and treating monkeypox, according to a Governor’s Office news release.

Illinois has seen the third-most number of diagnosed cases out of any state, with 520 found here so far, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“MPV is a rare but potentially serious disease that requires the full mobilization of all available public health resources to prevent the spread,” Pritzker said in the news release. “We have seen this virus disproportionately impact the LGBTQ+ community in its initial spread. Here in Illinois we will ensure our LGBTQ+ community has the resources they need to stay safe while ensuring members are not stigmatized as they access critical health care.”

Mayor Lori Lightfoot and health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady praised the move in a news release.

“This emergency declaration brings a necessary, increased focus to the Monkeypox (MPV) outbreak we’re seeing here in Chicago, across our state, and around the country,” the two said in a news release. “We need more support from the federal level to fully address the threat MPV presents to our city. It is our hope that this declaration joins a chorus of others across the nation and encourages the rapid increase and distribution of vaccines.”

Chicago has been an “epicenter” of the state’s outbreak, Arwady previously said. The city has seen 330 reported cases — though there are likely many more that have gone unreported, Arwady said.

Vaccines are available for monkeypox, but doses remain rare. Officials are working on getting more doses to Chicago; in the meantime, who can get vaccinated remains limited.

Here’s what you need to know:

Where To Get Vaccinated Against Monkeypox In Chicago

The city health department updated its website this week to include a list of where to get vaccinated. Click here for the list and see the sites below.

  • Health department Lakeview clinic, 2849 N. Clark St., 312-744-5507.
  • Howard Brown Health Clark, 6500 N. Clark St., 872-269-3600.
  • Howard Brown Health Sheridan, 4025 N. Sheridan Road, 872-269-3600.
  • Howard Brown Health 63rd, 641 W. 63rd St., 873-269-3600.
  • Howard Brown Health 55th, 1525 E. 55th St., 872-269-3600.
  • Wellness Home Lakeview, 2835 N. Sheffield Ave., No. 500, 773-296-2400.
  • Wellness Home Halsted, 3416 S. Halsted St., 773-621-7725.
  • RMR Core center, 2020 W. Harrison St., 312-448-4286. Website.
  • Rush University adolescent family center, 1645 W. Jackson Blvd., Suite 315A, 888-352-7874.
  • Esperanza, 2001 S. California Ave., Suite 100. Website.
  • Project Wish/UIC, 840 S. Wood St., Room B39. Website.

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

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.

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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.

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

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.”

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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