With tens of thousands of people visiting Chicago’s famous festivals throughout Pride month, local health officials want festival-goers to be aware of rising cases of monkeypox.
On Tuesday, the CDC reported 65 cases in the United States, including eight reported in Illinois. Seven of those eight are in Chicago, according to health officials.
The monkeypox virus originated in Africa, but the latest epidemic is localized in Europe. The disease is spread through close skin-to-skin contact with an infected person, such as hugging, kissing, or even dancing. Sharing a towel, bedding or clothing can also spread the disease, according to Howard Brown Health.
Although many cases impact gay and bisexual men, Dr. Steven Thrasher of Northwestern University cautions others about the stigma surrounding infectious diseases in gay and bisexual people.
Thrasher highlights parallels surrounding the stigmas of HIV and monkeypox.
“There’s a very similar stigma that arises when these viruses are imagined to be African or imagined to be gay in ways that other parts of the world don’t care about,” Thrasher said. “It’s one of the pervasive health issues of homophobia. Homophobia has this real problem where people think they are labeled as gay and come out a certain way when they come forward.
Thrasher says this could make infected people reluctant to report their symptoms.
“Any kind of thing that puts them to shame isn’t just going to hurt them, it’s going to harm public health in general because they’re not going to come forward,” Dr. Thrasher said.
Symptoms of monkeypox include fever, body aches, and rashes or sores all over the body.
Liz Thompson of Howard Brown Health says it could take 3 weeks or more to recover, especially if you’re immunocompromised.
Like Thrasher, Thompson says it’s important to educate others that this disease doesn’t just affect gay and bisexual men. Howard Brown is using this weekend’s Pride Fest to spread the message.
“Personalized messaging is important, and you can be much more personalized when having a one-on-one conversation,” Thompson said.
Howard Brown Health has seven contact tracers that track both COVID-19 cases and potential monkeypox cases.
Howard Brown also offers a smallpox vaccine for those infected.
“It may not necessarily cure the disease or infection if someone has it, but it may reduce the burden and severity of symptoms,” Thompson said.
Thompson says wearing a mask, keeping your distance from others and checking your skin for any rashes are ways to help control the spread.
The CDC says the overall health risk to the public remains low.