The Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) is ramping up efforts to combat the monkeypox virus (MPV) as the disease continues to make inroads across the country and in Chicago, officials said July 11.
New MPV cases have been prevalent among gay and bisexual men, as the virus tends to be transmitted among tightly-knit communities.
"That's just the network were seeing [MPV] in right now," said CDPH Environmental Health Medical Director Janna Kerins.
There were a total of 105 MPV cases as of July 11. CDPH Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said that the agency expects "many more" cases.
Symptoms of MPV typically include flu-like illness and a rash resembling pimples or blisters. Some individuals only present with the rash. Spread generally occurs through skin-to-skin contact with a rash, open sores or bodily fluids; respiratory secretions during prolonged face-to-face or intimate contact; and the touching of items such as clothing or linens that have touched the rash or bodily fluids.
While a vaccine for MPV exists, there were 65,000 doses in the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS), with 300,000 more expected to supplement them soon. Several million doses are expected to be in stock in the SNS by the fall.
MPV generally requires close person-to-person contact to be transmitted, so it has not spread as aggressively as an airborne-spread virus like COVID-19. As such, public health officials need to be strategic with how the vaccine, which can both treat and prevent the virus, is rolled out.
With vaccine supplies low, CDPH has eschewed large-scale vaccination events and has focused on smaller pop-up events at venues such as Steamworks that are frequented by especially at-risk populations.
"At the moment, the goal is to keep the numbers [controlled] as the vaccine strategy ramps up," Arwady said.
She admitted that guidance from the federal level, recommending isolation until MPV scabs fall off and a new layer of skin grows inwhich would take about three weeksmay not be feasible for many working Chicagoans, and that various officials have been pressing federal authorities to revisit those recommendations.
"We are careful about staying aligned [with guidance] but we have been raising the need about balancing what is possible with risk," Arwady said.
CDPH is currently recommending vaccinations for persons who have had close contact with or an intimate partner diagnosed with MPV. Vaccinations are also recommended for gay, bisexual or otherwise cis- or trans men who have sex with men (MSM) who have had intimate or sexual contact with men in social venues, intimate or sexual contact with multiple partners, or an exchange of money or other goods/services in exchange for sex.
Persons concerned about exposure should contact their physicians. If they do not have doctors, CDPH to be connected to care.
Persons who cannot immediately access vaccinations but are concerned about MPV should stay home when possible and avoid close contact as well as sexual intimacy, Kerins added.
See www.chicago.gov/city/en/depts/cdph/supp_info/health-protection/get-the-facts-monkeypox.html or call 312-746-4835.