Monkeypox in Illinois: Chicago man who recently traveled to Europe is state's 1st probable case

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Chicago and Illinois public health officials have confirmed the first probable case of monkeypox in the state in an adult male Chicago resident who recently traveled to Europe.

An initial test at an IDPH laboratory yielded a positive orthopoxvirus result, and confirmatory testing is pending at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

"Chicago being a very large international hub for travel," said Dr. Irfan Hafiz, chief medical officer for Northwestern Medicine Northwest Region. "It was inevitable that we would see a case or two, possibly more, in Chicago."

Unlike COVID-19, which is a new virus, monkeypox has been around since the 1950s and the majority of cases come from central and west Africa.

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But since the start of the year, the CDC has identified 22 cases of monkeypox in 19 states in this country. And while this is a first in Illinois, doctors say they do not expect a widespread outbreak.

"Even though it's not likely to be transmitted to a large number of people like COVID, the people that get it can be pretty sick," said Dr. John Segreti, an epidemiologist at Rush University Medical Center.

Symptoms include rashes, sores and lesions that often look severe, as well as fever and muscle aches. In a joint statement the state and city health departments say "The person did not require hospitalization and is isolating at home in good condition."

Doctors say monkeypox is generally spread by skin-to-skin contact, though it can also be passed through contaminated clothing or bedding. And while it can make patients very sick, it is not usually fatal.

Doctors say the smallpox vaccine generally works to protect from monkey pox, and there are also anti-viral drugs on the market to treat the virus once a patient has it.

"You're not gonna get if from walking past someone or seeing them on a bus," Segreti said. "You have to have very close contact with someone."

Public health officials say there is very little to no risk to those who have not been in close physical contact with the Illinois monkeypox patient. They are in the process of doing contact tracing to identify those who may have been close to the patient.

"I don't think we'll see a lot of cases, but maybe a few dozen cases," Segreti said.

Most monkeypox patients experience only fever, body aches, chills and fatigue. People with more serious illness may develop a rash and lesions on the face and hands that can spread to other parts of the body. No deaths have been reported in the current outbreak beyond Africa.

Unlike with COVID-19, the chance of asymptomatic spread of monkeypox is considered low. With this Illinois case, officials say they're conducting contact tracing. But for now, there's no indication of significant spread.
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