As monkeypox spreads across the United States, it may give people flashbacks to the days of wiping down counters and shopping to get rid of the coronavirus. But for most people, the risk of contracting monkeypox remains low. Almost all cases in the current outbreak – 98% – are in adult men who have sex with men.
So how does the virus spread? Studies of previous outbreaks suggest that the monkeypox virus is transmitted in three main ways: by direct contact with an infected person’s rash, by touching contaminated objects and fabrics, or by respiratory droplets produced when a infected person coughs or sneezes. There is also evidence that a pregnant woman can transmit the virus to her fetus through the placenta.
Scientists are still trying to figure out if the virus can be spread through semen, vaginal secretions, urine or feces and if people can be contagious before they develop noticeable symptoms.
Several factors can determine your risk of contracting monkeypox, whether it’s caring for a sick person, attending crowded parties, or simply having sex. Your proximity to a sick person, their contagion, the time you spend in their vicinity and your own personal health can affect your susceptibility, said Dr. Jay Varma, a physician and infectious disease epidemiologist at Weill. Cornell Medical School in New York.
Here’s how experts view everyday interactions, how the virus is transmitted during them, and which behaviors carry the most risk.
What to know about the Monkeypox virus
What is monkey pox? Monkeypox is a virus similar to smallpox, but the symptoms are less severe. It was discovered in 1958, after outbreaks occurred in monkeys kept for research. The virus has mainly been found in parts of West and Central Africa, but in recent weeks it has spread to dozens of countries and infected tens of thousands of people, overwhelmingly men with sex with men. On July 23, the World Health Organization declared monkeypox a global health emergency.
The activities that put a person at the highest risk of catching the virus involve close, intimate contact with another infected person. This includes the type of skin-to-skin contact that occurs during sex, as well as when you cuddle, hug, massage, or kiss another person. Condoms probably add a layer of protection during sex, but are unlikely to prevent contact with sores on an infected person’s groin, thighs, buttocks, or other parts of their body. body.
Roommates and family members living in the same house are also at a much higher risk of contracting monkeypox than anyone else a patient may come into close contact with, said Dr. Bernard Camins, director. Infection Control Clinic at Mount Sinai Health System.
Household contacts can catch monkeypox through contaminated clothing, towels, and bedding. Shared utensils that can carry an infected person’s saliva should also be considered high risk, said Saskia Popescu, an infectious disease epidemiologist at George Mason University.
When it comes to respiratory droplet transmission, face-to-face or near-face-to-face contact is riskier than being several feet away. Health officials recommend maintaining at least 6 feet of distance from unmasked patients to avoid exposure, although some experts argue that number is arbitrary. Still, just like with Covid-19, masking up indoors is a good idea if you want to protect yourself from monkeypox. Attending a crowded indoor party could put you at risk of contracting the virus, especially in parts of the country where cases are high. Raves where people have direct, skin-to-skin contact, dancing together for a longer period of time can be even riskier, Dr Popescu said.
People are unlikely to contract the virus from trying on clothes in a store or touching non-porous objects like doorknobs and countertops, Dr Popescu said. “Personally, I’m less concerned about trying on clothes in the store,” she said. For those who are really nervous, she suggested just putting a new item in the laundry when they get home for peace of mind.
Additionally, some activities that people have learned to limit during Covid-19 outbreaks are unlikely to be as risky for monkeypox transmission. For example, sitting on a subway, bus or other public transport or going to an office or school is unlikely to expose people to monkeypox. But experts warn that these guidelines could change as researchers collect more data on monkeypox. If the virus continues to spread unchecked, it could eventually spread to a wider population, increasing everyone’s risk of infection. But, Dr. Camins said, “We’re not there yet.”