As monkeypox cases in Illinois continue to rise, with Chicago reporting five new cases this week, health experts urge extra precautions as major summer events approach, but what should you watch out for and how is the disease spread?
Here’s the latest on the outbreak and what you need to know.
What is monkey pox?
Monkeypox is a rare but potentially serious viral illness that often begins with flu-like symptoms and swollen lymph nodes, and progresses to a rash on the face and body, health experts have said. It was first observed in Africa in 1970 and is usually found in the western and central parts of the continent.
The virus belongs to the same family as smallpox.
“It didn’t come from monkeys. That’s exactly what it was originally detected in and it’s a virus that’s not related to the COVID virus,” said health department commissioner Dr Allison Arwady. Chicago public. “It’s a completely different family. One of the reasons there’s interest in it is that it’s in the same family as the smallpox virus. We don’t have smallpox anymore. We have it. ‘ve eradicated, but it’s in this family.”
How does it spread?
The CDPH said person-to-person transmission is possible through “close physical contact with monkeypox wounds, objects that have been contaminated with fluids or wounds (clothing, bedding, etc.), or droplets respiratory after prolonged face-to-face contact.”
“It’s not just your occasional handshake,” Hafiz said. “(The contact must be) longer, more pronounced. It’s not technically a sexually transmitted disease, but it does involve close contact.
“It takes extended (contact), not minutes,” added NBC News medical contributor Dr. Kavita Patel. “(It may also involve) bodily fluids or injury.”
Where were the cases confirmed?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is on alert after cases of the virus were reported in several countries that don’t usually report cases of monkeypox, including the United States
On Tuesday, the CDC reported 65 confirmed cases in multiple states:
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Illinois reported its first probable case in a Chicago resident earlier this month.
Last week, the CDC raised its alert level for monkeypox and tightened its guidelines as global cases of the virus topped 1,000.
Globally, 1,678 cases have been reported in 35 countries, according to the CDC. The majority of cases have been reported in the UK, Spain and Portugal.
What do we know about the Chicago area cases?
In a press release Monday, the CDPH confirmed that at least seven cases have been identified in Chicago, a significant increase from the two cases reported in previous weeks. Seven of the cases involve people who recently traveled to Europe, and the first two cases appeared to be related to each other, health officials said.
A Chicago resident was diagnosed with monkeypox after attending the Mr. Leather International Conference, which took place May 26-30 in the city, and other cases linked to the event have been reported.
Another case was reported over the weekend in DuPage County.
The case was discovered in a man who had traveled overseas within the past month to a country that has also recently reported monkeypox infections, the DuPage County Health Department said.
According to Northwestern Medicine infectious disease expert Dr. Robert L. Murphy, more than 95% of cases in Europe, Canada and the United States are in LGBTQ people, specifically affecting the men who have sex with men community. . Health experts have warned, however, that the virus is not limited to this community and that “not all of Chicago’s cases have been in men”.
What symptoms should you watch out for?
Symptoms of the virus range from fever, body aches and rashes all over the body.
“Suspected cases may show early flu-like symptoms and progress to lesions that can start at one site of the body and spread to other parts,” the CDPH said.
Dr. Irfan Hafiz, an infectious disease specialist at Northwestern Medicine’s McHenry and Huntley Hospitals, said the virus causes symptoms similar to several illnesses, including chickenpox or smallpox.
“It can, to the layman, look like chickenpox or warts,” he said. “But these (sores) tend to be in exposed areas.”
Health experts have also said the disease could be confused with a sexually transmitted infection like syphilis or herpes, or with the varicella zoster virus.
Federal health officials are urging U.S. physicians to “consider a diagnosis of monkeypox in people who present with a consistent rash, particularly if they meet any of the following criteria:
- Has been in contact with someone who had a rash resembling monkeypox or someone diagnosed with confirmed or probable monkeypox
- Had skin-to-skin contact with someone in a social network experiencing monkeypox activity; this includes men who have sex with men who meet partners through an online website, digital application (app) or social event (eg bar or party)
- Traveled outside of the United States to a country with confirmed cases of monkeypox or where monkeypox activity is ongoing
- Has been in contact with a dead or alive wild animal or exotic pet that only exists in Africa or has used a product derived from these animals (eg game meat, creams, lotions, powders, etc. )
Infections typically last between two and four weeks, the CDPH said.
Health officials said anyone with “new or unexplained rash, sores, or symptoms, or confirmed exposure” should see their health care provider and “avoid sex or intimate relationships with anyone until it has been seen”.
How is monkeypox spread?
According to the CDPH, “Individuals can become infected with monkeypox virus when they come into contact with lesions, bodily fluids, or respiratory secretions of anyone infected with the virus, as well as objects that may have been in contact with scabs of lesions or bodily lesions”. fluids (e.g. linens, bandages, contaminated dishes). »
The CDC also notes that the virus “can be spread through respiratory secretions during prolonged face-to-face contact” as well as intimate contact between people, although “at this time it is not known whether the monkeypox can be spread through semen”. or vaginal secretions.”
Murphy said the disease is not a sexually transmitted disease “in the classic sense.”
“It spreads through close physical contact with lesions,” Murphy said. “I go back to the example of meningitis. It’s not a gay disease – there have been outbreaks on many college campuses.”
What makes recent cases unique?
“What makes it a bit different is the number of cases and the countries that are affected by it,” Hafiz said.
Chicago’s top doctor echoed that sentiment.
“Usually in a normal year we’ll see a few cases, mostly in West Africa, related to animals,” Arwady said. “There are animals that can carry it and we’ll see, you know, a couple dozen cases where people can get infected just by being in contact with animals. The reason there’s been more attention is that ‘At this point there have been somewhere between 100 cases that have been identified that are not related to the typical way we see monkeypox.’
The CDC said “the cases include people who identify as men who have had sex with men,” but stressed that anyone can contract the disease through prolonged contact.
We already have approved vaccines and treatments for monkeypox
How worried should you be?
The virus is rarely fatal, experts said.
Most of those diagnosed so far have had mild symptoms and no one has died.
“We want to make sure we understand it so it’s rare, but it’s potentially serious,” Arwady said.
Still, Chicago officials have urged residents to take extra precautions ahead of big summer events to come.
“While the risk in Chicago remains low, CDPH wants the public to be able to make informed choices about gathering in spaces or attending events where monkeypox could be spread through close or intimate contact,” said Arwady.
Health officials said they have been in contact with organizers of summer events and said anyone attending festivals or other such events “should consider the degree of close, personal and skin contact to skin likely to occur at the events they plan to attend”.
“If anyone feels sick or has rashes or sores, the CDPH recommends not attending a gathering and seeing a health care provider as soon as possible,” the health department said.
According to Murphy, the United States recently purchased thousands of doses of the vaccine, “which implies the CDC is really worried.”
“That being said, people with infectious diseases like me call it an epidemic; it’s not an epidemic, and it’s very unlikely to become one,” Murphy said. “It’s a DNA virus, they don’t mutate like these RNA viruses, so you wouldn’t expect it to turn into something like HIV or COVID-19.”