The current monkeypox outbreak is disproportionately affecting our LGBTQ+ communities with case counts continuing to rise in Philadelphia and across the country. This blog post will cover many of the FAQs regarding monkeypox with information from the CDC as well as the most up to date information provided by the Philadelphia Department of Public Health on monkeypox cases and vaccinations in Philadelphia. You can also check out our latest “Doctor Is In” program with Dr. Lilli Flink presenting the latest medical information about monkeypox symptoms and treatments (watch here).
The Beginning of Monkeypox
Monkeypox was first discovered in 1958, when two outbreaks of a pox-like disease spread in a colony of monkeys that was kept for research. Even though the disease refers to monkeys within its title, the origin of the disease is not known. It is known that African rodents and primates that are non-human, including monkeys, can have the disease and infect people. The first human case of monkeypox was recorded in 1970. Until this current outbreak, human cases of the disease had only been reported in western and central Africa. International cases had occurred only when someone had traveled to African countries where the disease was common among animals.
The 2022 Outbreak Monkeypox
The first case of monkeypox in the United States was confirmed in May. As of this writing, there have now been over 20,000 confirmed cases in the United States, 600+ of which have been in Pennsylvania. The CDC provides updated case counts broken down by state (view here). The Philadelphia Department of Public Health similarly tracks case counts specific to the city of Philadelphia, including demographic data (view here).
Globally, there have been 102 countries with confirmed monkeypox cases in 2022, with 95 of these countries not previously having seen monkeypox cases. There are over 55,000 cases of the disease confirmed globally. The United States has more positive cases than any other country. An international breakdown of case counts if available from the CDC (view here).
Importantly, there have been zero fatalities in the United States resulting from monkeypox. There have been 17 deaths related to monkeypox globally, most of which have occurred in locations that have historically reported monkeypox.
How Does Monkeypox Spread?
The majority of monkeypox cases in the United States have been among gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals and men who have sex with men. However, anyone can get monkeypox. It is important to note that monkeypox is NOT a sexually transmitted infection. This disease is also NOT limited to the LGBTQ+ community.
The disease is spread through skin-to-skin contact with someone who has monkeypox. This can occur when someone touches bodily fluid, rashes, scabs, or sores of a person with monkeypox. Prolonged close contact – including sex of any kind but also hugging, kissing, or cuddling – can also allow monkeypox to spread. Touching objects, surfaces, or fabrics, such as bedding or towels, that have been used by someone with monkeypox may also allow the disease to spread. Lastly, a pregnant person can spread the virus to their fetus through the placenta.
The best way to protect against monkeypox is to avoid skin-to-skin contact and to sanitize immediately if you do have skin-to-skin contact. Spread is most likely to occur through skin-to-skin contact and sexual or intimate contact.
How Do I Know If I Have Monkeypox?
The most common symptoms of monkeypox are fever, headache, chills, muscle aches or backaches, respiratory symptoms including sore throat or cough, swollen lymph nodes, and a rash that resembles blisters or pimples. This rash may appear on the face, inside the mouth, or on your hands, feet, chest, genitals, or anus. Some people experience the rash first and then the other previously listed symptoms follow. The rash also often goes through different stages before healing. Symptoms typically last between 2-4 weeks.
If you believe that you have symptoms of monkeypox, you need to self-isolate and speak to your healthcare provider. If you need to find a provider, you can visit findahealthcenter.hrsa.gov to find a public health clinic. You can also talk to your local urgent care facility. These outlets will either be able to provide testing for monkeypox themselves or guide you in the direction of where to go to get tested.
Can I Get Vaccinated?
If you are in Philadelphia and believe that you have been exposed to someone who has monkeypox, call the Department of Public Health immediately at 215-685-5488. Tell them you have been exposed and they will work with you to receive the monkeypox vaccine. It is important to call as soon as possible because you cannot be vaccinated once you test positive or start experiencing symptoms.
The Health Department is currently administering the JYNNEOS vaccine, given to them by the federal government. Reactions to this vaccine are minor and may include swelling, redness at the site of injection, and pain. The JYNNEOS vaccine is administered in two doses that are at least four weeks apart. Someone is considered fully vaccinated once both vaccinations have been administered. A single dose can still provide some protection against the disease.
Unfortunately, there is a low supply of the JYNNEOS vaccine and appointments are extremely limited. The Philadelphia Health Department and select providers will be vaccinating people at invite-only clinics. They are using the following eligibility guidelines to determine who can be vaccinated at this time.
“People who meet ALL of the following conditions:
- Gay, bisexual, transgender, non-binary, and other men who have sex with men, transgender, or non-binary persons
AND meet one of the following criteria:
- Have had multiple or anonymous sex partners in the last 14 days.
- Have had any newly diagnosed STI in the past 12 months, including gonorrhea, chlamydia, early syphilis, or HIV.
- Have recently attended or plan to attend any venue where anonymous sex or sex with multiple partners will occur (e.g. saunas, bathhouses, sex clubs, sex parties) in the next 30 days.
- Have met recent partners or plan to meet new partners in the next 30 days through social media platforms (such as Grindr, Tinder or Scruff), or at clubs, raves, sex parties, saunas.
Additionally, the following people are eligible:
- Sex workers (of any sex or gender), and/or
- Anyone with known close contact (skin-to-skin) with someone with monkeypox in the past 14 days.”
If you believe you are eligible based on these criteria, call the Health Department at 215-685-5488 to request a vaccination appointment.
Interested individuals can also complete an online Vaccine Interest Form. Even if you are not currently eligible, your name will be added to a list to be invited in the future when more vaccine appointments are available or the eligibility guidance changes.
Data on the vaccines administered so far can be viewed on the Health Department’s website (view here).
If you wish to find out more information, here are the links to the sites used for this post:
- https://www.phila.gov/2022-07-19-the-latest-on-monkeypox-in-philadelphia/ Monkeypox information for Philadelphia, including vaccination eligibility
- https://www.phila.gov/programs/acute-communicable-disease-program/monkeypox/ – Monkeypox cases and vaccination numbers in Philadelphia
- https://www.phila.gov/documents/promoting-equity-and-expansion-of-monkeypox-vaccination-services/ – Programing expansion for vaccination services in Philadelphia information
- https://www.cdc.gov/poxvirus/monkeypox/about/faq.html – FAQ about monkeypox
- https://www.cdc.gov/poxvirus/monkeypox/about/index.html – About monkeypox origins
- https://www.cdc.gov/poxvirus/monkeypox/about/cdc-response.html – What the CDC is doing
- https://www.cdc.gov/poxvirus/monkeypox/response/2022/us-map.html – Cases map for The United States
- https://www.cdc.gov/poxvirus/monkeypox/response/2022/world-map.html– Global cases and deaths map