Monkeypox Cases Rise in U.S., Along With Concerns Of Stigmatizing Those Impacted

Community health and social justice leaders warn stigma could keep people from reporting their illness.

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With tens of thousands of people visiting Chicago’s famous festivals throughout Pride month, local health leaders want festival goers to be aware of rising monkeypox cases.

As of Tuesday, the CDC reported 65 cases across the U.S., with eight of those cases reported in Illinois. Seven of those eight are in Chicago, according to health officials.

The monkeypox virus originated in Africa, but the latest outbreak is being traced to Europe. The disease is spread through close skin-to-skin contact with an infected individual, like hugging, kissing or even dancing. Sharing a towel, bedding or clothes can also spread the disease, according to Howard Brown Health.

Even though many of the cases are impacting gay and bisexual men, Dr. Steven Thrasher of Northwestern University is warning others about the stigmas surrounding infectious diseases among gay and bisexual individuals.

Thrasher is highlighting parallels surrounding stigmas of HIV and monkeypox.

“There’s a very similar stigma that comes up when these viruses are imagined to be African or imagined to be gay in a way that other parts of the world don’t care about,” said Thrasher. “This is one of the pervasive health problems of homophobia. Homophobia has this real problem where people think that they’re marked as gay and out in a way when they come forward.”

Thrasher says this could make infected individuals reluctant to report their symptoms.

“Any kind of thing that makes them feel shameful is not only going to hurt them, it’s going to hurt the public health overall because they’re not going to come forward,” said Dr. Thrasher.

Symptoms of monkeypox include fever, aches and rash or lesions all over the body.

Liz Thompson of Howard Brown Health says it could take 3 or more weeks 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.

“Tailored messaging is important, and you can get much more tailored when having a face to face one on one conversation,” said Thompson.

Howard Brown Health has seven contact tracers who are tracking both COVID-19 and potential monkeypox cases.

Howard Brown is also offering a smallpox vaccine for infected individuals.

“It can’t necessarily cure the disease or the infection if someone has it but it’s possible that it can reduce the burden and severity of the symptoms,” said Thompson.

Thompson says wearing a mask, keeping your distance from others and examining your skin for any rashes are ways to help control the spread.

The CDC says the overall health risk to the public remains low.

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