Monkeypox in Illinois: Pritzker declares public health emergency
Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Monday declared a public health emergency to manage the monkeypox virus in Illinois, which has the third-highest count of infections in the U.S. He also declared the state a disaster area.
There are 520 cases of confirmed or presumptive monkeypox in Illinois, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. That includes the suburbs and Chicago, which has more than 300 cases.
The actions help the state coordinate logistics and its response to the infectious virus, such as distributing vaccines.
"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 in a statement. "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."
The state has 7,000 vaccine doses from the federal government, and 13,000 more are on the way, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health. Last week, the state said it was prioritizing vaccines for people most at risk for serious outcomes until more shots are available.
Monkeypox symptoms are similar to flu and include fever and aches, as well as swelling of the lymph nodes that can progress to a rash with what may appear to be pimples or blisters. Cases typically last two to four weeks.
Monday was the first official day on the job for newly appointed Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Sameer Vohra.
"These measures will allow the state to deploy all our resources in fighting this disease and will open efficient lines of communication and cooperation across state lines, an essential step in tracking monkeypox and improving tools and processes to prevent and address it," Vohra said.
The disease can spread through respiratory droplets and by intimate contact with someone who is infected, including by kissing or sex, experts said. Exposures can also occur through contaminated clothing, bedding and towels.
At a Wednesday briefing, Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady explained day-to-day exposures such as through shopping, riding public transit or using public washrooms pose minimal to no risk for monkeypox.
"Still, you should assess the risk factors of any activities. For instance, avoid sharing drinks or cigarettes or vape pens, and if you have sex with a new partner, take some time to talk about (monkeypox), look for symptoms on your bodies, and if you have rashes, sores, or are feeling sick, don't engage in any skin-to skin physical contact," Arwady said.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Monday in a statement that it "is our hope that this declaration joins a chorus of others across the nation and encourages the rapid increase and distribution of vaccines."
The CDC reported that "some of the outbreaks have patients who identify as gay, bisexual, or other men who have sex with men. These outbreaks are currently under investigation and more information is expected in the future."
Pritzker noted monkeypox is disproportionately affecting the LGBTQ community and promised the state would ensure those residents have "the resources they need to stay safe while ensuring (community) members are not stigmatized as they access critical health care."
As of Monday, New York had the most monkeypox cases followed by California, Illinois, Florida and Georgia.
The declarations are in place for 30 days.