The number of monkeypox cases in non-endemic countries is continuing to rise, but health authorities say the outbreak is containable and poses a low risk to the general public.
As of this week, over 1,300 monkeypox cases have been detected in countries where the virus is not endemic. In the U.S., 45 cases have been confirmed so far, only two cases fewer than what was detected during the 2003 outbreak.
The White House is currently shoring up doses of vaccines believed to be effective against the monkeypox virus while also expanding testing capacity for orthopoxvirus, the family of viruses that monkeypox falls within.
The monkeypox virus has a very low mortality rate and no deaths have been reported in non-endemic countries so far this year. Infections typically last between two to four weeks and an individual is considered to no longer be infectious once the characteristic lesions are fully healed over.
Monkeypox is primarily spread through prolonged skin-to-skin contact, though it can occasionally be spread through respiratory droplets if sores develop inside an infected individual’s mouth or throat.
With the start of summer, more people will be spending time outdoors in large crowds. Health experts have so far said that people should not change their plans due to monkeypox but have advised some caution.
Here are some simple ways to stay safe and limit the spread of monkeypox amid the current outbreak.
Check yourself and others for symptoms
As many have likely become accustomed to doing over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, assess yourself for symptoms of monkeypox before attending an event or meeting someone else.
Symptoms tend to be flu-like and include fever, headache, fatigue, muscle aches and chills.
However, healthcare officials have noted that some cases have appeared to have mild or no symptoms shortly after getting infected.
The most notable sign of monkeypox is the characteristic rash that forms on various part of the body and face. The lesions go through several stages before eventually scabbing over. The scabs will eventually fall off and the skin will heal over, at which point a person is considered non-infectious.
Most of the cases have so far been identified among men who have sex with men and health officials have noted that many infected individuals have presented with rashes around their groin area or anus. As the anal area is difficult to see on your own, make use of mirrors, camaras or an understanding friend if you feel that you might have contracted the virus but haven’t seen lesions on body parts visible to you.
Before initiating a sexual encounter, you should also perform a visual examination of your prospective partner’s skin for lesions.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has published photos of what monkeypox lesions can look like.
Wash your hands, do your laundry
Standard methods of cleaning and sanitation are still considered to be effective at limiting the spread of monkeypox.
Thoroughly wash your hands with soap or handwash after going out in public. Make sure to wash your hands for at least 20 seconds, get under your fingernails as well as between your fingers. The CDC has published a video on handwashing that can be seen here.
Another common pathway of transmission for monkeypox is through the clothing or bedsheets of an infected individual. If you are recovering from a monkeypox infection or believe you may be infected, washing your linens and clothing with laundry detergent in a standard washing machine with warm water should get rid of the virus.
Avoid high-risk situations
The CDC considers festivals and events where attendees are fully clothed to be safer in terms of monkeypox transmission. However, people should also be aware other forms of contact like kissing.
Enclosed spaces where minimal to no clothing is worn — such as saunas or raves — do present a higher risk of transmission. The initial monkeypox outbreak in Europe has been speculatively linked to raves that took place in multiple countries.
While it is rare, monkeypox can be spread through respiratory droplets, which is why events where attendees are closely packed together in an enclosed space should be avoided.
Speak to a healthcare provider about getting tested
U.S. health authorities have said they are working to expand the testing capacity for orthopoxvirus. If you believe you have had a close contact with someone who tested positive for monkeypox, contact a healthcare provider about getting tested for orthopoxvirus.
According to Raj Panjabi, the White House’s senior director for global health security and biodefense, public health labs currently have the capacity to perform over a thousand tests per day.
“We are working to make testing through public health labs more convenient and expand testing beyond public health labs through commercial partners. But testing can only happen when people with symptoms seek care,” Panjabi said during a press briefing on Friday.
As monkeypox is very rarely seen in the U.S., some healthcare providers may not be familiar with signs of the virus, which is why it is important for you to recognize potential symptoms and specifically request a test for monkeypox if you believe you might have caught it.
Smallpox vaccines like Jynneos and ACAM2000 are believed to be effective against monkeypox and have already been mobilized to states where infections have been identified. Smallpox medications like brincidofovir and tecovirimat can also be used to treat monkeypox, with recent studies supporting their potential effectiveness against the virus.
Most people recover from an infection within two to four weeks.
Consider wearing a condom if you catch the virus
Monkeypox spreads through contact with the body fluid of an infected individual. However, health officials are unsure on whether the virus can be spread through vaginal fluids and semen.
While this possible pathway of transmission remains unclear, health authorities in the U.K. have recommended that people who recover from monkeypox wear a condom during sex for up to eight weeks after their infection is over.
Any sexual contact, even with a condom, should be avoided if the infection is still ongoing and active lesions are still on the skin.
While monkeypox is not a sexually transmitted infection, any sustained skin-to-skin contact, such as during sex, can lead to an infection.