The facts you need about the monkeypox outbreak in Philadelphia and beyond

Health services nonprofit Philadelphia Fight hosted a virtual town hall to combat monkeypox misinformation

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — More than 6,300 cases of monkeypox are confirmed in the United States, and that number is growing fast. New information is coming out, almost daily, about how the virus is spread, yet misinformation is still rampant.

Philadelphia Fight, a community health services organization, hosted a virtual town hall on Wednesday night to get people the facts they need to know, while dispelling some common myths.

Infectious disease specialist Dr. Janet Hines broke down monkeypox.

What is monkeypox?

Monkeypox is caused by a rare virus, related to the virus that causes smallpox. It is not related to chickenpox. The illness typically lasts two to four weeks.

Symptoms are similar to those of smallpox, but milder. They usually appear one to two weeks after infection and can include: fever, headaches, sore muscles, backaches, swollen lymph nodes, chills, fatigue, respiratory symptoms and a characteristic rash, resembling pimples or blisters, on the face, hands, feet, chest, genitals, anus or inside the mouth. Sometimes the rash comes first, followed by other symptoms; sometimes there is only the rash.

It is rarely fatal, but it poses a greater risk to people with compromised immune systems, children under 8 years old, people with eczema and people who are pregnant or breastfeeding.

How is monkeypox transmitted?

According to the CDC, monkeypox does not spread easily between people. Experts say exposure to someone with monkeypox, often through prolonged, direct contact with the infectious rash, scabs or body fluids, can lead to transmission. It can also spread through prolonged face-to-face contact. And intimate or sexual contact has also been proven as a "very efficient" mode of spread, Hines said.

Touching clothing or linens that were previously in contact with rash or body fluids may also spread monkeypox.

People who do not have monkeypox symptoms cannot spread the virus to others.

Who is at risk for monkeypox?

Hines outlined who is at greatest risk for exposure, citing health officials across the globe. The outbreak has largely affected gay, bisexual and transgender men, and gender non-binary people, who have sex with men — but, really, anyone who has close, personal contact with someone who has symptoms can be infected.

What precautions can people take to curb spread?

"I'm not going to tell you anything is going to be a ‘safe’ thing,” Hines said. Just as with “safer sex,” promoted a defense against sexually transmitted infections, “there is no ‘safe’ activity, other than just never leaving your house.”

Washing hands with an alcohol-based sanitizer is a very effective way of eliminating the virus.

Hines says wearing a mask isn’t necessary to protect oneself or others, but she said a mask can protect someone who is in close contact with someone who has had a lesion in their mouth.

How can someone get a monkeypox vaccine?

Vaccines developed to protect against smallpox may be used to prevent monkeypox infections. The U.S. government has stockpiled two vaccines — JYNNEOS and ACAM2000. Both can prevent monkeypox in people who are exposed to the virus.

Recipients must meet certain criteria in order to get it through Philadelphia’s Department of Public Health, and supply is limited. As of Monday, public health officials say the city has received a little over 2,600 vaccine doses and has administered about 1,600 of them.

Another 700 doses have been given to health care providers. That leaves about 300 doses available until the next delivery from the federal government, which promised 6,000 more doses this month in three separate shipments.

Where is more information available?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has information about the U.S. monkeypox outbreak, as well as general facts about the virus. Check the Department of Public Health for the latest on monkeypox in Philadelphia. Updates will come every Monday from the Health Department on case counts and vaccines.

At last count, there are 82 cases confirmed in Philadelphia. New Jersey is reporting 155 cases in the state, with most of those in North Jersey.