Monkeypox Cases Traced to Chicago's International Mr. Leather Conference

Monkeypox cases in Chicago have been traced back to the International Mr. Leather (IML) conference that was held in the city between May 26 and 30.

Five new monkeypox cases have been identified in Illinois' largest city, taking the total number of cases in the city up to seven, as of June 12. International Mr. Leather is a conference and contest for leathermen (members of the sexual leather subculture) and the BDSM community.

The Chicago Department of Public Health said in a statement: "Some of the current cases involve individuals who recently traveled to Europe. One Chicago resident reported attending the International Mr. Leather (IML) conference in Chicago...Additionally, residents from another state who were diagnosed with monkeypox also reported attending the IML conference."

Monkeypox is a viral infection that has now been recorded to have over 1,600 cases worldwide, mostly in Europe, with 64 cases confirmed in the U.S, according to recent figures from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

viral spread
The Chicago Department of Public Health announced that new monkeypox cases in the city have been traced to the International Mr. Leather conference, which ran from May 26 to May 30. The above image represents single cases of viral contamination (red) in a huge crowd of healthy people. iStock / Getty Images Plus

Many of the monkeypox cases worldwide initially reported were in communities of men who have sex with men. However, monkeypox is not currently considered to be a sexually transmitted disease. Anyone can contract monkeypox via close contact regardless of sexual orientation, and without having sex.

"It is important to note that 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," reads the press release from the Chicago Department of Public Health.

Monkeypox is spread by skin-to-skin contact with someone with monkeypox sores, as well as by direct contact with materials that have touched body fluids or sores, such as clothing or linens. It may also spread through respiratory secretions when people have close, face-to-face contact, according to the CDC. The CDC has said it is unclear whether the virus can spread via semen and vaginal fluids.

Researchers at the Spallanzani Institute in Rome have identified six out of seven patients present at the infectious disease research facility whose semen contained fragments of monkeypox genetic material. One patient's sample suggested that the virus found in his semen had the potential to infect another person.

This data, however, has not been peer-reviewed or published yet. Francesco Vaia, the Institute's general director, told Reuters that it is not enough evidence to prove that the virus' biological traits have changed to become sexually transmitted.