The World Health Organization has declared the latest monkeypox outbreak a global emergency, yet the United States continues to lack vaccination and treatment options. Many infected people are left on their devices (some for weeks) before they have access to drugs that improve their condition. Understanding how the virus spreads and how to prevent infection is critical as authorities try to fill gaps in their response.

As bad as it sounds, monkeypox is rarely fatal (no deaths have ever been reported in the United States) and rarely requires hospitalization. Still, skin lesions, one of the most common symptoms of the virus, can be extremely painful without proper medication.

Of the more than 40,000 monkeypox infections worldwide (about one-third of them in the United States), transmission is primarily among gay, bisexual, and queer men who have sex with other men (GBMSM for short). Concentrated within a particular community composed of and their sexual networks. Whether you know you can catch monkeypox or your risk of contracting monkeypox is currently low, you should know how the virus spreads and how to stay safe.

How monkeypox spreads

Unfortunately, there is still much we do not understand about this new monkeypox outbreak. One reason for this is that it differs from previously studied outbreaks in West and Central Africa. For example, skin lesions appear in different places. In past outbreaks, infected people tended to have lesions all over their body, but now lesions appear mainly on people’s genitals, anus, and mouth. Studies investigating the current outbreak have found changes in the viral DNA, but scientists are trying to figure out exactly why this version of the disease spread so quickly.

What we do know is that monkeypox patients are contagious from the first symptoms until the last lesion is completely healed. The entire process usually takes two to four weeks, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

As far as we know, the current monkeypox epidemic is spreading in three ways. direct contact with contaminated surfaces; transfer of respiratory fluids such as mucus and saliva.

Let’s break it down.

skin-to-skin contact

This is the most efficient way monkeypox jumps from person to person. It occurs when highly infectious secretions from a rash caused by a virus enter the skin of a healthy person. It can be carried and can be up to three times more infectious than saliva.

“Say you touch the lesion and get the virus on your hands. As long as your skin isn’t damaged, you should be fine,” says Scott Roberts, assistant professor of infection control at Yale University School of Medicine. The problem is that we tend to touch our mouths, eyes and faces all day long. This means that you can become infected with viruses that are left on your fingers.

Sex is a major cause of monkeypox because it involves constant and continuous touching, involves multiple exchanges of bodily fluids, and the inherent friction can tear the skin. So far, 91.5% of infections have been sexually transmitted and 97% of cases have occurred within his GBMSM community. This is why some experts believe monkeypox may be classified as a sexually transmitted disease or STI. But Roberts is not one of them.

“The reason we’re seeing spread through sexual contact isn’t because it’s a sexually transmitted disease, but because it’s from touching parts of the skin, kissing, sharing bodily fluids,” says Roberts. “It’s all a good scenario for the virus to spread.”

Some studies have found traces of monkeypox in semen, but it was Italian researchers who showed that the virus in the samples could replicate and actually infect another person. Only one has been published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases. At this time, this evidence does not support the claim that monkeypox can be transmitted directly through the exchange of semen and vaginal fluids, but there are ongoing studies. That could change, as we know from research.

Some people are reluctant to identify monkeypox as an STI because of its potential stigma attached to the LGBTQI+ community. But the new label could also help governments develop more efficient strategies against monkeypox.

“I don’t really care if people want to say, ‘Will it be in textbooks on STDs?'” said Jay Varma, a professor of population health sciences at Cornell University’s Weill Cornell School of Medicine. ‘ said. “What I care about is putting as much effort into the sexual network as possible and strengthening sexual health services. Every time we talk, we divert our attention away from the people who need our attention the most.

Note that skin-to-skin contact does not mean that simply rubbing your shoulders with someone who has monkeypox will infect you. That requires a high viral load.

“If you don’t touch someone’s lesions, you’re definitely going to need a lot of close contact for a long time,” says Roberts.

contact with infected surfaces

Monkeypox secretions readily penetrate porous surfaces such as clothing, bedding, bandages, towels, and upholstery. In fact, the virus is also very resilient in this kind of environment and can survive for weeks and even months, especially in dark, cool and humid conditions.

Still, according to the latest WHO report on monkeypox, only 0.15% of cases were caused by contact with an infected material, which is highly unlikely.

exchanging respiratory droplets

A study published in the scientific journal The Lancet in early August found minute amounts of the virus in the mouths and throats of monkeypox patients. This means that you can become infected whenever you are exposed to the saliva or mucus of a monkeypox patient. This may occur when

But monkeypox is not airborne and does not behave like COVID-19. You can become infected with COVID-19 if a small amount of droplets get into your nose or mouth. Researchers, including those involved in the Lancet study, have stated that the viral load in the respiratory tract of monkeypox patients is not as high as that from lesional secretions. much less likely. In fact, a monkeypox patient needs to be in face-to-face contact with him for three hours at a distance of six feet from him in order to be infected. The COVID-19 virus, on the other hand, can spread in just 15 minutes in the same context.

How to prevent monkeypox

As previously mentioned, the outbreak is now largely contained within the GBMSM community, and authorities are giving its members priority access to limited monkeypox vaccines and treatment options. Still, resources are scarce and people should try to reduce their own risk as much as possible.

Be Smart About Your Sexual Partner

If you’re part of the GBMSM community, the safest thing you can do is reduce the number of sexual partners you have, says the CDC. You don’t have to abstain from sex, but you should limit intimate contact to closed circles where you know you aren’t taking unnecessary risks or exhibiting symptoms. Practicing safe sex by using condoms or using dental dams is also a good idea. Not only does it limit the amount of exposed skin (to a lesser extent), but it also protects you in case researchers confirm that monkeypox can indeed be transmitted sexually. increase. fluid.

Also, you have to remember that there are different ways to have sex, some of which don’t require touching or being in the same room with your partner. Take this as an opportunity to get creative and explore these options as sexual alternatives.

Anonymity is another matter. We know the thrill of having sex with a stranger is the ‘stranger’ part. However, to stop the spread of the virus, it is important to stay informed at all times. Anonymous sex rarely gives people the opportunity to have an honest conversation about their level of monkeypox exposure, potential symptoms, or vaccination status. enables everyone involved to stay safe, make informed decisions, and clearly determine how much risk is acceptable.

And since you’re already having a conversation, don’t forget to exchange real names and contact information with potential partners. This includes people who do everything in between.

Also, if you are not confident that you can break the spell of anonymity, avoid situations where anonymous sex is most likely to occur, such as sex clubs, sex parties, and other situations where casual sex is commonplace. please.

get the monkeypox vaccine

Getting vaccinated against monkeypox is also important for prevention. Vaccine eligibility parameters vary from state to state, but in general, all members of the GBMSM community and their sexual networks should be able to receive two doses. Please contact your local health department to see if you are eligible. Please note that even if you are able to get a reservation, it may take a while to get it due to low inventory. Therefore, as a complementary measure, it is important to reduce exposure as much as possible.

Keep your distance and keep things clean in high-risk situations

Reducing exposure to nonsexual skin-to-skin contact with strangers is also a good idea, says the CDC. If you’re going to a party, it’s a good idea to consider covering your skin. Long-sleeved shirts and pants may not be ideal club attire, but they will reduce your chances of exposure.

If you know someone who has monkeypox, avoid seeing them until the infection has subsided. Also, if you live with them or may be in close contact, keep your distance, cover your hands with disposable gloves, wear a close-fitting face mask, and a long-sleeved shirt that you can wash or wear. Wear trousers and a closed container immediately after. Otherwise, make sure they are segregated in their own space, manage their waste according to CDC guidelines, and clean up common areas they still have access to.

“Monkeypox is actually a very easy virus to kill,” says Roberts. “Alcoholic wipes, soap and water, sanitizer, all of these kill viruses really easily.”

In general, surfaces such as kitchen counters, doorknobs, and light switches should be sanitized regularly, according to the CDC. You should wash your hands frequently. If you’re unsure if your cleaning agent will work, the EPA publishes a list of approved disinfectants.

don’t forget your pets

Finally, remember that monkeypox is a zoonotic disease. This means that it can be transmitted from humans to certain animals such as dogs, hedgehogs, and other rodents, and vice versa. Keep pets safe by preventing them from coming into contact with infected people. If possible, ask a friend or family member from another household to look after your pet for as long as the infection lasts.CDC recommends if your pet has monkeypox alert the veterinarian immediately Helps run tests and plan treatment and isolation.

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