Citing the continued spread of the monkeypox outbreak, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker declared the virus a public health emergency Monday, classifying Illinois as a "disaster area" in regard to the disease.
The announcement follows a rise in case numbers across the state, with more than 500 infections, according to the latest numbers provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nationwide more than 5,100 infections have occurred. With the declaration in effect, officials can more easily secure vaccine shipments and ramp up distribution to ensure the most impacted communities receive treatment as soon as possible, according to a news release from Pritzker's office.
Monkeypox is a rare, but potentially serious viral illness, which often begins with flu-like symptoms and swelling of the lymph nodes, and progresses to a rash on the face and body, health experts said. It was first observed in Africa in 1970, and is usually found in western and central portions of the continent.
Person-to-person transmission is possible through "close physical contact with monkeypox sores, items that have been contaminated with fluids or sores (clothing, bedding, etc.), or through respiratory droplets following prolonged face-to-face contact," according to the Chicago Department of Public Health.
"The main source of spread is that direct skin-to-skin contact with rash or sores, and that can and has kind of very frequently among our cases included sexual or intimate contact," said Dr. Janna Kerins medical director for environmental health at CDPH. Monkeypox can also be transmitted other ways, including sharing drinks, kissing as well as sharing bedding or other intimate items.
“MPV is a rare, but potentially serious disease that requires the full mobilization of all available public health resources to prevent the spread," Pritzker said. “That’s why I am declaring a state of emergency to ensure smooth coordination between state agencies and all levels of government, thereby increasing our ability to prevent and treat the disease quickly. We have seen this virus disproportionately impact the LGBTQ+ community in its initial spread. Here in Illinois we will ensure our LGBTQ+ community has the resources they need to stay safe while ensuring members are not stigmatized as they access critical health care.”
The Biden administration is considering declaring a nationwide public health emergency in response to the growing outbreak, but has yet to do so. Dr. Ashish Jha, the White House COVID response coordinator, said last week the administration was looking at how a public health emergency declaration might bolster the U.S. response to the outbreak.
“There’s no final decision on this that I’m aware of,” Jha said. “It’s an ongoing, but a very active conversation at HHS.”
Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra has the authority to declare a public health emergency under the Public Health Services Act. A declaration can help mobilize federal financial assistance to respond to a disease outbreak.
The World Health Organization last week activated its highest alert level, declaring the virus a public health emergency of international concern.