The spreading monkeypox virus has reached another troubling milestone: More than 300 Chicagoans have now tested positive, officials said.
The Chicago Health Department reported Wednesday that the city’s number of cases has reached 326. Last Friday, the number of cases was 202.
“It’s certainly relevant. We’re doing everything we can,” said Massimo Pasilli, CDPH’s deputy commissioner for disease control.
The jump underscores the need to continue vaccinating people at risk and to spread awareness about the virus, he said. Recent expansions in testing capabilities and advances in clinicians’ ability to diagnose the disease may have contributed to the significant increase, he added.
“Any increase in cases is an indication that more needs to be done,” Pasilli said. The growth of the virus appears to be linear rather than exponential, he added.
The increase in cases over the past five days represents the largest weekly increase in monkeypox cases in Chicago. Delays in reporting positive cases from newly opened testing labs may also have contributed to the jump, Pasilli said.
Most casual contact and everyday activities — such as shopping, going to a bar, riding the train or using gym equipment — don’t pose a risk of contracting monkeypox, CDPH Commissioner Dr. Allison Arvadi said Wednesday.
He urged people to avoid sharing drinks, cigarettes and vape pens and to talk about monkeypox with new sexual partners.
“The most important thing is to see your doctor immediately if you start to have symptoms and get checked out. If you test positive, we can vaccinate your close contacts to help stop further spread of the virus,” Arvadi said.
The virus is most commonly spread among men who have sex with men, a trend seen across the country, CDPH said. The city is vaccinating this group, especially those who have sex outdoors or have multiple or anonymous partners. But some cases of monkeypox in Chicago were outside that group.
“MPV is not a ‘gay disease,'” Arvadi said. “There is nothing in the biology of the virus that limits it to men who have sex with men. The virus spreads through dense social networks; it does not discriminate.’
Many gay men in Chicago have reported difficulty getting vaccinated as cities across the country grapple with a nationwide shortage of doses. CDPH received 15,000 doses of monkeypox vaccine from the federal government over the weekend. CDPH announced last Friday that it would prioritize giving the first shots with those new doses to at-risk people, meaning most could delay the second shot.
The new doses will reduce the high demand for monkeypox vaccines, but the influx doesn’t mean everyone who wants to get the shot will get it, Pasilli said.
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“There aren’t enough vaccines for those of us who want it,” he said.
The new surge in activity comes 10 days before the start of the Northalted Market Days street festival. The LGBTQ-focused event brings hundreds of thousands of people to Chicago each year.
Monkeypox virus, related to smallpox, was first identified in humans in the 1970s and is endemic in parts of west and central Africa. The disease usually begins with flu-like symptoms and swollen lymph nodes, followed by large rashes that look like pimples or blisters. Monkey pox can last up to four weeks.
The virus is usually transmitted through close physical contact with the scabs or body fluids of a person with monkeypox, as well as through contact with objects they have touched. Spread can be through sharing towels or intimate sex.
To learn more about monkeypox virus, visit CDPH Monkey Disease Fact Sheet.