- Wearing a mask won’t do much to protect you against the monkeypox vaccine.
- Monkeypox is mainly spread via skin-to-skin contact so avoid touching infected people or objects.
- For further protection, wash your hands regularly and look at the monkeypox vaccine options.
Cases of monkeypox are increasing rapidly. As of August 22th, there were 15,433 US cases and 42,954 global cases of monkeypox. The more people who are infected by a disease, the more quickly it can spread, meaning monkeypox is now at a critical threshold.
So should we tighten up masking restrictions again? Not so fast, says Dr. Stockton Mayer, an infectious disease specialist at UI Health who works directly with monkeypox patients as the physician lead on UI’s outbreak response team.
Though people interacting with confirmed monkeypox patients should wear masks to minimize their exposure, wearing a mask in public probably won’t do much to slow the spread of the virus.
That’s because, unlike COVID-19, monkeypox is mainly spread through skin-to-skin contact, which masks don’t shield against.
So how can you best protect yourself?
1. Avoid sex with an infected person
But because prolonged skin-on-skin contact often occurs during sex, touching an intimate partner’s active lesions makes it “pretty likely” you’ll catch the disease, Sims says.
More than 91% of all current monkeypox cases were likely contracted during sex. Most of these cases are amongst the LGBTQ+ community: though anyone can get monkeypox, 97% of global cases have occurred in men who have sex with men.
- Check for a rash or pustules before sex.
- Have virtual sex instead of physical contact.
- Use condoms to minimize skin-on-skin contact.
- Keep your clothes on during sex.
- Minimize your number of sexual partners.
But the best way to reduce your risk? Don’t have sex with anyone who may be infected with monkeypox.
2. Avoid other skin-to-skin contact
Non-sexual skin-on-skin contact can also spread the virus, including:
- Touching someone’s rash
Try to avoid attending events where you’ll have a lot of close skin-on-skin contact with strangers, like dance clubs, Sims says.
If someone you live with has been diagnosed with monkeypox, avoid contact as much as possible.
“Once it’s in a household, it can be difficult to keep it from spreading from person to person,” Sims says. “Until those lesions are all crusted over, you’re gonna be contagious, so isolation is the best way.”
To isolate effectively, try to:
3. Avoid any contact with contaminated objects
Monkeypox can also spread through indirect contact. If a sick person touches a surface – including bedding, towels, clothing, utensils, appliances, or even carpet – that surface can retain the monkeypox virus for up to 15 days.
If someone in your household has monkeypox, it’s important to clean regularly. Whenever possible, you should:
- Disinfect surfaces immediately after the infected person uses them.
- Have the infected person wash their own laundry separately from the rest of the household.
- Use hot water or a dishwasher to disinfect plates.
- Clean commonly-shared large items. For example, disinfect refrigerators or other appliances after an infected person uses them, and steam clean upholstered items, like the couch, after use as well.
- Use separate bathrooms and bedrooms when possible.
4. Wash your hands regularly
If you come into contact with the monkeypox virus, you won’t automatically contract the disease.
“It’s not going to seep in through your skin — you need to have an open spot as well,” says Suzanne Judd, an epidemiologist and professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Public Health.
But the virus “will likely survive on the skin until the hands are washed, so regular hand washing is critical,” Judd says.
- Wet your hands with clean water.
- Apply 1-3 ml of soap.
- Lather and scrub for at least 20 seconds, making sure you cover the whole hand, including under your fingernails and between your fingers.
- Rinse your hands under water.
- Dry your hands.
5. Get the vaccine when it becomes available
Because monkeypox currently has a low mortality rate, severe measures like lockdowns aren’t necessarily warranted, Judd says.
But vaccination efforts — which include the use of smallpox vaccines – should be accelerated.
Eventually, “I think we’ll find what we found with chickenpox,” Judd says. It’s better to vaccinate people so they’re less likely to get sick in the first place.
If you’re in a high-risk group and the vaccine is available to you, you should get vaccinated, Judd says, especially if you have multiple sexual partners.
Monkeypox is primarily transmitted through close skin-to-skin contact during sex.
To reduce your risk of contracting the virus, reduce your number of sexual partners and check yourself and your partner for signs of a rash or pustules before engaging in intimate activities.
“Nobody is asking people to modify their behavior for the rest of their life,” Judd says. Instead, “think about modifying your behavior as a pause and know that these activities are going to be fine and perfectly safe in the future when we have access to the vaccine.”