With monkeypox spreading across the United States, people may have flashbacks to cleaning counters and groceries to ward off the coronavirus. But the risk of contracting monkeypox is still low for most people. Nearly all the cases in the current outbreak of the disease —98% of the total—have been in adult men who have sex with men.
So how is the virus spreading? Studies of previous outbreaks suggest that monkeypox virus is transmitted in three main ways: by direct contact with an infected person’s rash, by contact with contaminated objects or tissues, or by respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. . There is also evidence that pregnant women can transmit the virus to their fetuses through the placenta.
Scientists are still trying to understand whether the virus can be transmitted through semen, vaginal fluids, urine or feces, and whether people can be contagious before they have visible symptoms.
A number of factors can determine your risk of getting monkeypox, whether it’s caring for a person who has the disease or simply having sex or going to parties with lots of people.
Physical proximity to a sick person, how infectious they are, how much time you spend around them and your own personal health can all affect your susceptibility to the virus, according to physician Jay Varma, an infectious disease specialist and epidemiologist at Weill Cornell Medical. School in New York.
See what experts are thinking about everyday interactions, how the virus is transmitted in those interactions, and which behaviors carry the most risk.
Activities that put a person at the greatest risk of contracting the virus involve close contact with another affected individual. This includes the type of skin-to-skin contact that occurs during sex and also when people hug, kiss, or massage. Condoms likely provide some protection during sex, but are unlikely to prevent contact with injuries to an infected person’s groin, thighs, buttocks, or other parts of the body.
Roommates and family members who live in the same household are also at significantly greater risk of contracting monkeypox, compared with any other individuals with whom a patient may have close contact, said Dr. Bernard Camins, medical director of infection prevention at Mount Sinai Health System.
People who share a home or visit a patient’s home can contract monkeypox from contaminated clothing, towels or bedding. Shared utensils that can carry the saliva of an infected person should also be viewed as being high risk, said Saskia Popescu, an epidemiologist at George Mason University and an infectious disease specialist.
When it comes to respiratory droplet transmission, face-to-face or near-face-to-face contact is riskier than keeping a few feet away. To avoid exposure to the virus, health officials recommend that people keep at least two meters away from patients without a mask.
But some experts argue that this distance is arbitrary. Still, as with Covid, wearing a mask indoors is a good idea if you want to protect yourself from monkeypox. Going to a crowded party indoors can put you at risk of contracting the virus, especially in regions of the country where the number of cases is high. According to Popescu, raves where people have direct, skin-to-skin contact and dance together for long periods of time can pose an even greater risk.
For Popescu, it is unlikely that people contract the virus by trying on clothes in a store or touching non-porous objects such as counters and door handles. “Personally, I find it less worrying to try on clothes in a store,” he said. For anyone who is very concerned, she suggested that a new item of clothing be washed before being worn, just to reassure the person.
Some activities that people have learned to limit during Covid outbreaks are unlikely to carry an equal risk in the case of monkeypox. For example, sitting on a subway, bus or other means of public transport or going to school or the office is unlikely to expose someone to monkeypox.
But experts warn that guidance could change as scientists gain more information about the virus. If it continues to spread unchecked, it could end up reaching the larger population, increasing everyone’s chances of getting infected. “But we’re not quite there yet,” Camins said.
Translation by Clara Allain