Monkeypox Virus: Your Risk, Explained

As monkeypox continues to spread across the United States, it may remind people of the days of cleaning counters and groceries 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 percent – have occurred in adult men who have sex with men.

So how does the virus spread? Previous outbreaks suggest that monkeypox virus is transmitted directly in three main ways: through contact with an infected person’s rash, and through contact with respiratory organs and tissues produced by an infected cough or sneeze. There is also evidence that a pregnant woman can transmit the virus to the fetus through the placenta.

Scientists are still trying to understand whether the virus can be spread through semen, vaginal fluids, urine or feces, and whether people can be contagious before they develop visible symptoms.

Several factors can determine the risk of contracting monkeypox, from caring for a sick person to attending weddings or simply having sex. How close you are to someone who is sick, how contagious they are, how much time you spend around them and your personal health can affect your susceptibility, Dr. Jay Varma, an infectious disease physician and epidemiologist at Weill Cornell Medical School in New York.

Here, experts think about everyday interactions, how the virus spreads during them, and what behaviors are most dangerous.

Activities that increase a person’s risk of contracting the virus include close, intimate contact with another infected person. This includes the type of skin-to-skin contact that occurs during sex, as well as when hugging, cuddling, massaging, or kissing another person. Condoms likely add a layer of protection during sex, but they do not prevent contact with sores on an infected person’s groin, groin, or other parts of the body.

Roommates and family members also have a much higher risk of contracting monkeypox than other people with whom the patient may come in close contact, said Dr. Bernard Kamins, medical director of infection prevention at Mount Sinai Health System.

Monkeypox can be spread by household contacts through contaminated clothing, towels, and bedding. Saskia Popescu, an infectious disease epidemiologist at George Mason University, said utensils that carry the saliva of an infected person should also be considered a high risk.

When it comes to respiratory droplets transmission, face-to-face or near-face contact is more dangerous than several feet away. Health officials recommend keeping a distance of at least 6 feet from patients without a mask, but some experts argue that number is arbitrary. However, as with Covid-19, it’s a good idea to wear a mask at home if you want to protect yourself from monkeypox. Attending a crowded indoor party can put you at risk of contracting the virus, especially in areas of the country where cases are high. Even more dangerous are raves, where people dance together for long periods of time in direct, skin-to-skin contact, Dr. Popescu said.

People can’t catch the virus by wearing clothes at the store or touching non-porous items like doorknobs and counters, Dr. Popescu said. “Personally, I’m not very interested in trying on clothes in a store,” she said. For those really worried, she suggested putting a new item in the laundry for peace of mind when you get home.

In addition, some activities that people have learned to limit during the Covid-19 wave are not so dangerous for contracting monkeypox. For example, riding the subway, bus or other public transport or commuting to the office or school is unlikely to put people at risk of exposure to monkeypox. But experts warn that the guidelines could change how researchers gather more information on monkeypox. If the virus continues to spread unchecked, it will eventually spread to the general population and everyone will be infected. However, Dr. “We’re not there yet,” Cummins said.

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