Some cases of monkeypox have been linked to the International Mr. Leather conference, held in Chicago over Memorial Day weekend, according to the Chicago Department of Public Health.
The cases involve one Chicagoan who was at the event, which is popular with queer members of the leather community, and an undisclosed number of people from another state who attended, the health department’s press release says. As of this week, Chicago health authorities have identified seven confirmed cases of monkeypox.
While cases have been reported among gay and bisexual men, the disease is not limited to that population, nor are queer men more prone to monkeypox than other people. “It’s dangerous to pin a virus and how it is transmitted on an identity because it can affect knowledge, treatment, and research associated with how the virus is spreading,” Dr. Demetre Daskalakis, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention, recently told The Advocate. “People who are not gay men might become complacent thinking it won’t happen to them. The stigma that occurs can distort knowledge and the truth about the response.”
He said everyone should remain vigilant about the virus. “[Practice] safe sex, obviously, but monkeypox can be spread by several ways, including droplets through kissing and touching surfaces, and that could apply to anyone,” he explained.
The Chicago health department notes, “The risk of monkeypox is not limited to [men who have sex with men] and not all Chicago cases have been among men. Anyone who has close contact with someone who is infectious is at risk. Individuals can become infected with the monkeypox virus when they come in contact with lesions, bodily fluids, or respiratory secretions of anyone infected with the virus, as well as with objects that may have been in contact with lesion crusts or bodily fluids (e.g., contaminated linens, bandages, dishes).”
Dr. John Segreti, an epidemiologist at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, told local TV station WLS, “You’re not gonna get it from walking past someone or seeing them on a bus. You have to have very close contact with someone.”
With summer festivals coming up, Chicago health officials are emphasizing a need for caution.
“If someone feels sick or has rashes or sores, CDPH recommends not attending a gathering, and visiting a healthcare provider as soon as possible,” the news release says.
The Advocate has sought comment from IML organizers. This story will be updated if we receive a response.