Monkeypox United States

Illinois Has Seen Monkeypox Before, But Doctors Say These US Cases Are Different. Here's What We Know

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The Illinois Department of Public Health on Thursday reported the state's first probable case of monkeypox, a rare but potentially serious viral illness usually found in western and central portions of Africa.

The virus, which comes from the same family as smallpox, often begins with flu-like symptoms and swelling of the lymph nodes, eventually progressing to a rash on the face and body, health experts said.

As of Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported 19 confirmed cases across multiple states including California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Massachusetts, New York, Utah, Virginia, Washington -- and now, Illinois.

Here's what we know about the state's first probable case, where in Illinois it was detected and how it spreads.

Where in Illinois Was The First Case Detected?

IDPH reported on Thursday that Illinois' first probably case of the illness was detected in a Chicago man who recently traveled to Europe.

The man was not hospitalized and is in isolation at home in "good condition," officials said.

What Does "Probable Case" Mean?

"Based on initial epidemiologic characteristics and the positive orthopoxvirus result at IDPH, health officials consider this a probable monkeypox infection," the health agencies stated.

Tests were first conducted Wednesday at an Illinois Department of Public Health lab, but the results are still pending at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, officials said.

How is it Spread?

The Chicago Department of Public Health said 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."

“It’s not just your casual handshake,” Dr. Irfan Hafiz, an infectious disease specialist with Northwestern Medicine’s McHenry and Huntley Hospitals said. “(Contact must be) longer, more pronounced. It is not technically a sexually transmitted disease, but it involves close contact.”

“It takes prolonged (contact), not minutes,” NBC News Medical Contributor Dr. Kavita Patel added. “(It can also involve) body fluids or lesions.”

During a Facebook live health update last week, Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said "It does not come from monkeys. That's just what it was initially detected in and it's a virus that is not related to the COVID virus. It's a completely different family. One of the reasons why there's attention to it is it's in the same family that the smallpox virus. We don't have smallpox anymore. We eradicated but it's in that family."

Has Monkeypox Been Detected in Illinois Previously?

According to Arwady, a prior monkeypox outbreak occurred in 2003 in the US. At that time, it was also found in Illinois.

"It was linked to prairie dogs," Arwady said. "There was some exposure. People got better. Usually, in a normal year, we will see a few cases mostly in Western Africa that are related to animals," Arwady said.

"There are animals that can carry it and we'll see, you know, a few dozen cases that people can get infected just from just from being in contact with animals. The reason there's been more attention is that at this point, there's been somewhere between 100 cases that have been identified that are not connected to the typical way that we see monkeypox."

Hafiz echoed that same sentiment.

“What makes this a little different is the number of cases, and the countries that are affected by this,” Hafiz said.

The CDC said that “cases include people who self-identify as men who have had sex with men,” but emphasized that anyone can contract the illness through prolonged contact.

What are Symptoms of Monkeypox?

Virus symptoms range from fever, aches and rashes all over the body.

"Suspected cases may present with early flu-like symptoms and progress to lesions that may begin on one site on the body and spread to other parts," the Chicago Department of Public Health stated.

“It can, to the layperson, look like chickenpox or warts,” Hafiz said. “But these (sores) tend to be in exposed areas.”

Health experts also said the illness can be confused with a sexually transmitted infection like syphilis or herpes, or with varicella zoster virus.

Federal health officials are urging doctors in the U.S. to "consider a diagnosis of monkeypox in people who present with a consistent rash, especially if they meet any of the following criteria:

  • Had contact with someone who had a rash that looks like monkeypox or someone who was diagnosed with confirmed or probable monkeypox
  • Had skin-to-skin-contact with someone in a social network experiencing monkeypox activity; this includes men who have sex with men who meet partners through an online website, digital application (app), or social event (e.g., a bar or party)
  • Traveled outside the US to a country with confirmed cases of monkeypox or where monkeypox activity has been ongoing
  • Had contact with a dead or live wild animal or exotic pet that exists only in Africa or used a product derived from such animals (e.g., game meat, creams, lotions, powders, etc.)
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