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CDPH, community partners provide monkeypox update as Market Days nears
by Andrew Davis
2022-08-05

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With the event known as Northalsted Market Days happening Aug. 6-7—and with tens of thousands of people expected to attend—the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) and community partners held a press conference Aug. 4 about monkeypox, which has caused at least three states (including Illinois) to issue emergency declarations. (Also, President Biden has declared monkeypox a national emergency.)

CDPH Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady discussed the basics regarding monkeypox, but also disclosed many pertinent statistics.

Among the numbers Arwady provided were that, of monkeypox cases, 47% have been diagnosed in white non-Latinx residents, 14% in Black non-Latinx Chicagoans, 31% in Latinx residents and 4% in Asian Chicagoans.

Also, regarding gender, sex and sexual orientation, she said all but one case has been in males, with one transgender man having been diagnosed. (There have been more than 400 cases so far in Chicago.) Among people reporting sexual orientation, 98 percent have been gay or bisexual—however, Arwady added, "There is nothing [biological] about this virus that makes it specific to men who have sex with men; anyone can get it. However, that is the network that we're seeing it spread the most in Chicago and around the world."

Arwady also said that "the overall risk of MPV [the monkeypox virus] to the general public remains low at this time. However, she warned, "We need you to see a healthcare provider if you develop symptoms. Spread is primarily through skin-to-skin contact, with rashes or lesions that can be anywhere on the body. The highest risk of transmission is through sex or intimate contact. The rash can look like a pimple—a pox is what we call it. If you're not feeling well, please see a doctor."

Regarding how risky MPV is, Arwady revealed what are currently thought to be the highest-risk activities, including sexual/intimate contact (which includes activities with condoms, although the items reduce—but do not eliminate—risk) and direct contact with the infection.

Activities with some risk, according to Arwady, include kissing, cuddling, sharing drinks/toiletries with infected individuals—or even dancing in crowded areas with individuals who are not fully clothed. Low-risk activities include everything from "co-worker-to-co-worker contact" to touching a doorknob or trying on clothes in a store.

Arwady even has a plan for Chicago that is labeled "MPV." "M [involves] monitoring cases and contact tracing; P [is for] providing resources and education; V [involves] vaccinating those at highest risk."

As for MPV testing, Arwady said it's "widely available. It should be available at any doctor or clinic. It involves taking a swab of a sample." She added that there's treatment available (antiviral medication) for those who are diagnosed—but those people need to see a doctor or clinic.

Arwady also had what she called two pieces of good news: the increases of testing and vaccines. "Demand definitely outstrips supply," she said. "There are about 120,000 men who have sex with other men in Cook County alone so we continue to prioritize people getting the first dose of the vaccine." (Like with COVID, there's a two-vaccination process involved.)

"Within the first six to eight weeks, we got about 5,000 vaccines from the government," said Arwady, who noted that monkeypox is something the country normally does not experience. "July 23-24 [marked] the first significant allotment we got—15,000 doses. And then yesterday we got another 13,000 doses; we're expecting 20,000 within the next [few] weeks."

People in Chicago are eligible for MPV vaccines if they have had close contact with an infected individual or if they have additional risk factors (such as having multiple/anonymous partners), she said. However, the vaccine isn't currently recommended for the general public.

She admitted that there is "room to grow" regarding minority individuals receiving the vaccines. "Getting tested is the smartest thing you can do, regardless if you have other risk factors," Arwady said. The commissioner also mentioned a website, TellYourPartner.org, that lets intimacy partners know that they should get tested.

Lastly, Arwady mentioned social media, including one—"Turn on the lights before you turn off the lights"—that emphasized talking about MPV with partners and examining each other.

Northalsted Business Association VP Mark Liberson also spoke. "As Dr. Arwady said, the risk is low but our goal is to stop the spread," he said. "What we've done is create an education campaign. We're showing videos in our businesses and elsewhere. People are not getting infected from going to a street fair. I think we can have a great time, and I think we can do it safely."

Other speakers included Esperanza Health Centers Vice President of External Affairs Ricardo Cifuentes, Wellness Home Behavioral Health Chief Wellness Officer & Medical Director Maurice Brownlee and Alivio Medical Center CEO Esther Corpuz.

"At Esperanza, we detected our first case of MPV about two weeks ago," Cifuentes said. "Since then, we've identified five more—and we expect that number to increase as people come forward for testing." He added that people can get the vaccine two different ways: calling the main number or texting "MPV" to the center's dedicated line.

Brownlee said, "We've been able to successfully vaccinate about a thousand people over the last two to three weeks. I know that people within the community are extremely frustrated … but I need everyone to understand that we are trying. The providers are getting back to you; we try to get back to people within 24 hours.

"Our concern has shifted; we're focusing on the Black and Brown communities. What we're trying to do, along with the Department of Health, we're trying to get the message out to that particular population. We're trying to break down the barriers to getting vaccinated; we're open seven days a week at our Halsted location [3416 S. Halsted St.]. We are extremely committed; we've even asked ministers to talk with their congregations about monkeypox." He added there will be an event (the Wellness Home BBQ) on Saturday, Aug. 8, in Jackson Park that involves MPV awareness and education.

Corpuz—who said 95% of the patients are bilingual/Spanish speakers and more than 60% are undocumented—said, "We're getting a lot of phone calls; there's a lot of fear. Because of the personal nature of this virus, it's very difficult for folks to share their information" so they can be vaccinated. To that end, Corpuz shared that Alivio has partnered with CALOR—"a very trusted organization that focuses on the LGBTQ community."

For more about monkeypox, visit www.cdc.gov/poxvirus/monkeypox/index.html and www.chicago.gov/city/en/depts/cdph/supp_info/health-protection/get-the-facts-monkeypox.html .


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