On July 23, 2022, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the viral zoonotic illness monkeypox a public health emergency of international concern.
This decision come after monkeypox cases started spreading rapidly around the world earlier this year 2022. Previously, the virus a relative of smallpox had been endemic to certain countries in West and Central Africa. (It was initially discovered by lab researchers in Denmark in 1958.) The disease can be contracted by anyone of any age, gender, sexuality, race, or ethnicity. But the vast majority of reported cases are among men who have sex with men, per WHO data.
Quick Jump Table
Myths about Monkeypox
Many misconceptions and myths about monkeypox have been swirling as the outbreak continues to grow. For example, people wrongly assume that because most reported cases are currently among men who have sex with men, the disease is sexually transmitted even though that’s not the case.
So what is the truth about monkeypox and how it spreads and how can you protect yourself from it? Experts are still learning about this variant of the virus, so information may strengthen over the coming weeks and months. But here’s what we know now about how to prevent monkeypox and keep it from spreading in your circles.
How does Monkeypox Spread?
There are a few ways that monkeypox can spread from person to person, some of which scientists are still figuring out. But monkeypox is predominantly spread among humans from close skin-to-skin contact, such as persons living closely together in the same household, sharing a bedroom, cuddling, or having sex.
The disease can cause a rash or scabs, and touching those can allow the virus to spread. Hugging, kissing, massage, and extended face-to-face time all count as close contact. Pregnant people infected with monkeypox can transmit it to their fetus, or to their babies through post-delivery skin-to-skin contact.
The virus can also be spread via fomites, aka linens, bath towels, and clothing used or worn by a person infected with monkeypox. Same goes with eating utensils used by someone with monkeypox, since the virus can spread through saliva. As a zoonotic disease, meaning it is spread from animals to humans, the monkeypox virus can also proliferate through contact with an infected animal’s body fluids, according to the WHO.
There are still some unknowns on how monkeypox is transmitted, particularly this new strain, which is spreading more rapidly and widely than older iterations of the virus. Monkeypox virus has been found in semen and vaginal fluids, but the role of sex or intercourse in the virus’s spread is not currently known. Scientists are also unclear at present if it can be spread by asymptomatic people, or through respiratory droplets.
How Long Monkeypox Last once Infected?
As for how monkeypox manifests, this virus presents a range of symptoms that differ between individuals. Monkeypox can cause a fever, headache, swollen lymph nodes, and a painful, blistering rash on the genitals, hands, feet, face, or chest. In more serious cases, a person can get rashes or lesions around or on their eyes. But it can take a long time for symptoms to show up after you’re infected.
The incubation period of monkeypox infection is typically 5 to 13 days, but can range from 4 to 21 days. It also can take a while to recover. Over time, now estimating as much as 4 weeks post original exposure, the rash crusts over, and the scabs fall off. This part usually happens 7 to 14 days after the rash starts.
How to Protect Yourself from Monkeypox?
The monkeypox virus is spreading rapidly in some parts of the world, and state-led efforts to contain it remain slow. Individuals are, unfortunately, still on their own to protect themselves from the disease. And again, we’re still figuring out if it can spread through additional means, which will influence mitigation strategies. But here’s 7 tips what is known about how to prevent monkeypox and keep it from spreading.
Total Time: 14 days
Wash your hands regularly and avoid touching your eyes or mouth
This should not surprise to us given the past two-plus years of dealing with COVID-19. Since monkeypox is spread through close skin contact with an infected person, wash your hands often with soap and water before and after eating, before touching your face, and after every time you use the bathroom. An alcohol-based hand sanitizer can work in a pinch, too.
Avoid people currently infected with monkeypox
Maintaining physical distance and avoiding contact with persons exposed to or known to have monkeypox seems to help reduce your risk of getting the virus. If someone in your household gets monkeypox, they should self-isolate, wear a mask, and wear clothing that covers their rash.
If you have to be around them, say bringing them food or washing their linens, the WHO recommends wearing a mask and gloves (and disposing of them after every use). Clean and disinfect their living area and items they’ve used with warm water and detergent.
Be mindful of the potential risk of certain public and private gatherings
The CDC recommends considering how much close, personal contact you’ll get at certain events. Festivals and concerts where folks are fully clothed, for example, are likely safer from a monkeypox standpoint than going to a party or club where people are wearing fewer clothes and/or pressed up against each other for extended periods of time.
Isolate yourself if you have symptoms
If you think you’ve been exposed to monkeypox, say, you were at a party and find out later a person you hung out with had monkeypox. Monitor for symptoms for 21 days after that exposure. You can go about your daily activities, but if symptoms develop (like an unexplained rash), you should immediately self-isolate and contact the district or state health department for further guidance.
Check in with your sexual partner(s)
If you are someone in a social group that is seeing increased monkeypox infection and activity, check in with sexual partners about exposure or symptoms. Remember, while monkeypox is not a sexually transmitted infection, it can be transmitted through close skin-to-skin contact… which is a hallmark of sex.
If there is an exposure or symptoms, holding off on sex for the time being not just stops the spread of Monkeypox, but helps you avoid being infected too.
The same goes for asking about other infectious symptoms, be it monkeypox, COVID-19, or the common cold. And if you or a partner gets monkeypox, the WHO recommends that you use condoms consistently during any sexual activity for 12 weeks after recovering.
Get vaccinated for the disease if you are eligible and in an area of distribution
There are two vaccines that can prevent monkeypox. The CDC recommends people who are at increased risk of monkeypox (including public health workers and close contacts of someone with monkeypox) should get vaccinated. Contact your district, national or state health department for information on the vaccine as well as who specifically is eligible in your state or city.
Talk about it with your personal networks
Making sure community and social groups know about monkeypox can also help reduce its spread. While state and national health departments handle these education efforts, you can help by talking to friends, posting signs with information at public places like the library, the gym, and bars or clubs, or sharing accurate information on social media.
Efforts to decrease stigma or shame about any sort of illness and infection are important so that people can show an interest in learning more, ask important questions, and get care early if they need it. Viruses do not care about who you are, what you do, who you love. Viruses are opportunistic and spread wherever and whenever they can, and monkeypox is no exception.
The best way to prevent monkeypox is to have open and honest communication with people who are close to you. Ask questions, check in on family members or sexual partners’ health, and if there is an exposure or risk of infection for any virus, then act in ways that reduce your own risk and the risk of spread to others.
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