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CORRECTED: First suburban Cook County monkeypox case diagnosed

Publisher’s note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly reported that the first monkeypox case in suburban Cook County was found in Forest Park. The report from the county health department did not specify which suburban community the case was found in.

The Review regrets the error.

The Cook County Department of Public Health announced June 25 that a suburban Cook County resident likely contracted monkeypox – a rare viral disease that has been spreading more widely than usual this year.

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According to public health officials, the resident tested positive for a virus in the orthopox genus, which monkeypox is part of, but they are waiting for a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) test to confirm that it is indeed that particular virus. The patient has been reportedly isolated, and their close contacts were offered a post-exposure monkeypox vaccine. Since monkeypox doesn’t spread as easily as COVID-19, CCDPH officials hope to be able to track down all of the patient’s close contacts and reduce transmission.

According to CDC, monkeypox was discovered in 1958 in a colony of monkeys used for research, but a human case wasn’t detected until 1970. The virus is related to several pox diseases, most notably smallpox, so vaccines and treatments that work against smallpox work against it as well. For the most part, the disease didn’t spread beyond central and western African countries, but 2022 saw the virus spread globally.

Still, its spread is nowhere near as virulent. The first US case was confirmed on May 18 and, as of June 24, there have been 201 cases in United States as a whole and 26 cases in Illinois. On June 16, the Illinois Department of Public Health identified nine cases in Chicago and one case in DuPage County.

Unlike COVID-19, which is airborne and can spread by someone who doesn’t show any symptoms, monkeypox is spread via bodily fluids, and people who don’t show symptoms can’t spread it.

Symptoms of monkeypox include rash “that can look like pimples or blisters” on the body and inside the mouth, swollen lymph nodes, fever, headache, muscle and back ache, chills and exhaustion. According to county health officials some patients get a rash before other symptoms, and some don’t experience any symptoms other than rash.

“The rash goes through different stages before healing completely,” the county stated. “Most infections last two to four weeks and resolve on their own, but some cases can become severe.”

According to the CDC, “antiviral drugs and vaccines developed to protect against smallpox may be used to prevent and treat monkeypox virus infections,” including drugs geared toward people with weakened immune systems.

The county recommends that people who are worried about exposure should consider covering exposed skin in dense, indoor crowds and asking prospective sexual partners if they’ve had any rashes or sores recently. Since body fluids remain infectious when they soak in clothing, the department advises avoiding sharing bedding and clothing with others.

In a statement to the media, Dr. LaMar Hasbrouck, the county health department’s CEO, urged residents to contact their doctor if they think they might have symptoms.

“The risk to residents of suburban Cook County remains low, but we want individuals to be aware of the signs and symptoms of monkeypox so that they seek medical care if they develop,” he said. The county “is actively tracking all the contacts of the case to make them aware of their risk and reduce possible transmission.”

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