As monkeypox spreads across the United States, people may remember the days when they cleaned counters and grocery stores to get rid of the coronavirus. But for most people, the risk of getting this type of smallpox remains low. In the current outbreak, nearly all cases — 98 percent — have been in adult men who have sex with men.
So how does it spread? Studies of previous outbreaks suggest that the monkeypox virus is spread in three ways: through direct contact with an infected person’s rash, by touching contaminated objects and fabrics, or by respiratory droplets produced when a person infected person coughs or sneezes. There is also evidence that a pregnant woman can transmit the virus to her fetus through the placenta.
Several factors can determine your risk of contracting monkeypox, whether it’s from caring for someone who is sick, attending crowded parties, or simply having sex. How close you are to someone who is sick, how infectious they are, how much time you spend with them and your own personal health all play a role, all of which can affect your susceptibility, said Jay Varma, a physician and epidemiologist who specializes in infectious diseases. at Weill Cornell School of Medicine in New York City.
We present expert opinions on everyday interactions, how the virus is transmitted during those activities, and which behaviors carry the greatest risk.
Activities that put a person at higher risk of contracting the virus involve close and intimate contact with another infected person. This includes the type of contact that occurs during sexual intercourse, as well as when hugging, touching, massaging, or kissing another person. Condoms probably add a layer of protection during sex, but they are unlikely to prevent contact with lesions on an infected person’s groin, thighs, buttocks, or other body parts.
Roommates and family members who live in the same house also have a significantly higher risk of contracting this type of smallpox, compared to anyone else with whom a patient may have close contact, said Bernard Camins, medical director for the infection prevention at the Mount Sinai Health System.
People who share the same dwelling can get monkeypox from contaminated clothing, towels, and bedding. Shared utensils that may contain the saliva of an infected person 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 contact — or activities involving similar proximity — is riskier than being several feet apart. Health officials recommend keeping at least 1.80 meters away from patients without a mask to avoid exposure, although some experts argue that this distance is arbitrary. However, just like with covid, wearing a face covering indoors is a good idea to protect yourself from monkeypox. Attending a party in a packed venue could put you at risk of contracting the virus, particularly in areas of the country where cases are high. Gatherings where people have direct contact and dance together for a long time can be even riskier, Popescu said.
People are unlikely to catch the virus by trying on clothes in a store or by touching non-porous items like door handles and countertops, Popescu said. “Personally, I’m less concerned about trying on clothes in the store,” he said. For those who are nervous, he suggested taking new clothes to the dry cleaner for peace of mind.
Also, some activities that people learned to limit during waves of COVID-19 are probably not as risky for monkeypox transmission. For example, sitting on a subway, bus, or other public transportation or going to an office or school is unlikely to expose people to the monkeypox virus. But experts warn that this recommendation could change as researchers collect more data on the disease. If the virus continues to spread unchecked, it could eventually spread to a broader population, increasing the chances of infection in all cases. But, according to Camins, that moment “has not yet arrived”.