One of two identified cases of monkeypox in Indiana was diagnosed June 19 at Methodist Hospital Northlake in Gary, according to city officials.
Gary Mayor Jerome Prince and Dr. Roland Walker, Gary’s health commissioner, confirmed in a press conference Tuesday the city is the site of one of the first reported cases in the state.
“Being close to the Chicago it should come as no surprise it would spread to Gary. We do not believe monkeypox is easily transmitted,” Prince said.
Walker said the individual was tested at Methodist Hospital Northlake June 18 and the test result came back positive June 19. He said the second case in the state also was identified June 19.
During the June 14 Lake County Council meeting, Nick Doffin, administrator for the Lake County Health Department, told the council the county’s first case of monkeypox had been reported. Doffin said only that the person works in Illinois but lives in Lake County.
“(Monkeypox) is not as contagious as COVID, but it is contagious,” Doffin said.
The Indiana Health Department did not respond to a request to confirm the number of cases in the state or where the other reported case was reported. According to a press release in the IDH website, the test was completed at the IDH in Marion County.
Currently there are 10 cases in Illinois, seven in the Chicagoland area. Walker said since Chicago is home to an international airport it is not surprising it would be an epicenter for infection. Gary’s proximity to Chicago means spread here is more likely.
According to the U.S. monkeypox case map on the Centers for Disease Control website, there were 131 confirmed cases of monkey pox in the U.S. as of June 17. The map has not been updated since that date and does not reflect the Indiana cases.
Monkeypox is a rare disease caused by infection with the monkeypox virus. Monkeypox virus belongs to the Orthopoxvirus genus in the family Poxviridae, according to the CDC. The Orthopoxvirus genus also includes variola virus (which causes smallpox), vaccinia virus (used in the smallpox vaccine), and cowpox virus. Monkeypox is not related to chickenpox.
Monkeypox was first discovered in 1958 when two outbreaks of a pox-like disease occurred in colonies of monkeys kept for research. Despite being named “monkeypox”, the source of the disease remains unknown. However, African rodents and non-human primates (like monkeys) may harbor the virus and infect people, according to the CDC website.
Walker said while the number of cases is growing in Western countries, monkeypox is not a pandemic though it is endemic in places like Africa.
Symptoms are flu-like and include headaches, body aches, fever, chills, muscle aches, back aches and fatigue. Symptoms also include a rash, similar to that of smallpox, which may look like pimples, then blisters and pustules. The rash can appear on the face, body, genitals and anus, Walker said.
“You can have person-to-person spread so long as you have symptoms,” Walker said.
The virus spreads via direct contact with the scabs or body fluid of an infected person, intimate physical contact or though actions like kissing. A person can also contract the virus by touching items of clothing soiled by someone with monkeypox. The disease is also spread by contact with or consumption of infected animals or using products made such as creams made from infected animals. Pregnant mothers also can pass it to their unborn child, Walker said.
“The case in Gary is being monitored and the person is in isolation,” Walker said.
The Gary Health Department is doing contact tracing and they believe they have reached everyone to whom the infected individual has been in contact.
“There is no reason for panic in this situation,” Walker said.
Dr. Maria Stamp, Porter County health commissioner, said there have not been any reported cases to date in Porter County of which she is aware. Any suspected case would be reported to the health department which would follow up.
“If and when we do have cases in Porter County, we will do an epidemiology investigation and look for people who have been in close contact and certainly help the patient be able to isolate during the time they are infectious,” Stamper said.
Individuals with the virus would have to isolate for the entire time they have the pox, or pustules. The incubation period for people exposed can be upwards of three weeks.
She said while the case numbers are currently small in the U.S., this outbreak of monkey pox is significant.
“There are more cases than there have ever been in western countries than have really ever been recorded. We probably will at some point see some in Porter County,” Stamper said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, as of June 17 there are 2,525 confirmed cases in 37 countries around the world. Previously outbreaks have been largely limited to Africa where the disease originated.
The first human case of monkeypox was recorded in 1970, according to the CDC website. Since then, monkeypox has been reported in people in several other central and western African countries. Prior to the 2022 outbreak, nearly all monkeypox cases in people outside of Africa were linked to international travel to countries where the disease commonly occurs, or through imported animals, the site continued.
Anyone experiencing symptoms is encouraged to isolate and contact their doctor or a hospital to be tested.
Carrie Napoleon is a freelance reporter for the Post-Tribune.