While Oak Park’s first presumptive case of monkeypox has recently been reported, Oak Park Public Health Director Theresa Chapple-McGruder believes the community should not be alarmed about contracting the MPV at present.

“It really should not be a concern for the community at this time,” she told Wednesday Journal. “And if that ever changes, then we will make sure that the community knows that and help them with any adjustments that needs to be made.”

The Village of Oak Park announced the village had seen its first presumptive case of monkeypox July 26. The first case in the current U.S. monkeypox outbreak was identified May 18. The length of time for the virus to hit Oak Park has been much slower compared to that of COVID-19, which tore through the United States with alacrity.

“We’ve made it almost to August before having our first case, so that is pretty much indicative of how it’s not spreading as easily as COVID,” Chapple-McGruder said.

“You have to have really close contact in order for monkeypox to spread.”

Currently, men who have sex with men have been affected most by monkeypox, but the virus is by no means exclusively a threat to that particular demographic nor is it a sexually transmitted disease. For their safety, however, the Oak Park Public Health Department is considering men aged 18 and up who have sex with other men as high risk.

“That is a group that we are working with to get vaccinated,” Chapple-McGruder said.

As federal and local health agencies are targeting that specific group of people through outreach and messaging, apprehension has surfaced that the special attention could lead to stigmatization, discrimination and marginalization.

The World Health Organization grappled with those concerns in deciding to declare monkeypox a public health emergency. Now that the declaration has been made, WHO Director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called on civil society organizations to fight against prejudice.

“Stigma and discrimination can be as dangerous as any virus,” he tweeted.

In Oak Park, however, Chapple-McGruder said the health department has not encountered any such hateful rhetoric in the community, citing the village as a “welcoming” and “progressive” municipality.

“All that I have heard is – how can we help support the community that is most at risk?” she said. “And the best way that we can is by encouraging them to call the health department to get screened to see if they qualify for the vaccine.”

People at any age or sexual orientation can contract monkeypox as it is spread through close physical contact with bodily fluids and monkey pox sores. It can also be transmitted by items, such as bedding or clothing, contaminated with fluids or sores.

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky disclosed July 22 to the Washington Post that an infant and a toddler had contracted the virus – becoming the first two confirmed pediatric cases of the outbreak. The CDC believes the unrelated cases are likely the result of household transmission.

The Oak Park resident who contracted the virus is in isolation. Confirmatory diagnostic MPV testing is pending at the CDC. In the meantime, health officials are considering it a probable case of monkeypox based on the initial epidemiological characteristics.

Those who have been in close contact with the resident have been identified by the Oak Park Public Health Department and it is administering post-exposure vaccinations to those individuals, according to Chapple-McGruder, as recommended by the CDC and Illinois Department of Public Health.

MPV infections typically last two to four weeks. Monkeypox causes a pimple-like rash on the face and inside the mouth but also on the hands, feet, chest, anus and genitals. Other symptoms include fever, chills, headaches, muscle aches, swollen lymph nodes and exhaustion. Some only get the rash. Symptoms typically appear within one or two weeks of infection.

While monkeypox is seldom fatal, according to the CDC, it is potentially serious. The very rare disease is caused by the MPV virus, which is of the same family as the smallpox virus.

CDC researchers are collaborating with partner health organizations to determine how long the virus has been circulating, if it is being transmitted through semen or vaginal fluids and the clinical course of the illness.

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