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Market Days Is Low Risk For Monkeypox Spread, Top Doc Says

Stigmatization over monkeypox puts members of the LGBTQ community at "greater danger of discrimination, hate and violence," and it prevents people from effectively addressing the virus, advocates say.

Dr. Allison Arwady speaks at a City Hall press conference on Dec. 21, 2021.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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CHICAGO — The organizers of Market Days will use the massive street festival this weekend to educate people about monkeypox, officials said Thursday.

The risk of spreading the virus at outdoor festivals like Market Days is low — and canceling the fest wouldn’t help protect people, officials said at a Thursday news conference. Organizers of the festival said they plan to use it as a way to spread awareness of the virus.

Market Days is Saturday-Sunday along the Northalsted strip. It’s organized by the Northalsted Business Association and will feature local vendors, musical acts, comedy, cabaret and more, with the bulk of its crowd celebrating in the street.

“The health department … has already identified the most dangerous ways … you’re most likely to get exposed to the virus, and it’s not from being out in a street fair, it’s not from being in a bar, it’s not from being at a business,” Mark Liberson, vice president of the Northalsted Business Association, said at a Thursday news conference. “So we want people to have a great time, and I think we can do it safely.”

The festival will be used to educate attendees about monkeypox, including symptoms of the virus and how it spreads, officials said.

Monkeypox can affect anyone, but most cases in Chicago have been diagnosed in men who have sex with men. That’s led to some questioning if Market Days — an LGBTQ-friendly festival that routinely attracts more than 100,000 people — should continue as planned for this weekend, despite health officials saying outdoor festivals are low risk.

Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said the city has not thought about canceling Market Days and does not think that would be effective at slowing the virus’s spread.

“We’ve been working really closely with the organizers [of a lot of events], and I feel strongly that our ability to work with organizations like this, to get the right information out, to raise awareness of this, is, frankly, the most important thing,” Arwady said at the news conference. “People are making those decisions based on what they know and what they believe to be highest risk.

“… We do not think that it sends the right message to say, ‘We’re not doing this at all.’ We know that abstinence messages tend not to be successful.”

Notably, Lollapalooza did not attract the same amount of questioning about monkeypox risk. The four-day music festival drew 100,000 people per day over the weekend, with attendees mingling closely — but it does not have the prominent ties to the LGBTQ community that Market Days has. Nationally, advocates have expressed concern LGBTQ communities will face stigmatization over the outbreak.

Stigmatization over monkeypox puts members of the LGBTQ community at “greater danger of discrimination, hate and violence,” and it prevents people from effectively addressing the virus, Sarah Kate Ellis, president and CEO of advocacy group GLAAD, told NPR.

It is “unlikely” that someone would be at-risk for monkeypox if they danced at a crowded party outside, according to the Chicago Department of Public Health.

The virus is most commonly spread through direct contact with a rash, scab or the bodily fluid of someone with monkeypox, such as through intimate or sexual contact, according to the health department.

Dancing at an indoor crowded party with non-fully clothed people, kissing and cuddling with someone with the virus, sharing drinks with someone with the virus and sharing personal items — like a bed, towels or toiletry items — presents some risk, according to the health department.

“Overall risk remains low, but our goal is to get the spread to stop …,” Liberson said. “We want people to have a great time at the festival.”

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.

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, 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 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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