At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, fears that the coronavirus could live on surfaces led many people to wear gloves in public and wipe down groceries once home from the store.
As the monkeypox outbreak continues to escalate and the United States today declares the virus a public health emergency, some may be wondering if these types of preventative measures could once again be part of our collective reality.
Unlike the coronavirus, the monkeypox virus can be transmitted from person to person via contaminated objects, fabrics or surfaces, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said. But even though the virus can live on surfaces, experts say the chances of catching monkeypox this way are low.
Here’s a closer look at how monkeypox spreads from contaminated surfaces, who should be especially careful about the surfaces they interact with, and what disinfection strategies help ensure your home is virus-free.
Monkeypox, like other poxviruses, can live on fabrics, surfaces or objects for up to 15 days, especially in cool or low-humidity environments, the CDC said.
People with monkeypox usually have smallpox lesions on their bodies – if these lesions come in contact with a surface or tissue, the virus can latch onto it and contaminate it. The same goes for bodily fluids or respiratory secretions from someone infected with monkeypox.
These infected surfaces or objects, called fomites, can transmit the virus to an otherwise healthy person.
“Poxviruses tend to affect skin surfaces and some mucosal surfaces — so they spread more through direct contact but also through respiratory secretions,” said Nicholas Turner, assistant professor of medicine at Duke University School of Medicine. Health. “This ability to replicate in skin lesions is what allows poxviruses to spread through contact.”
But even though the virus can survive on surfaces and make the leap to healthy individuals, it’s far from the most common mode of transmission. The vast majority of infections appear to occur through direct person-to-person contact, said Sumit Chanda, PhD, professor of immunology and microbiology at Scripps Research.
“It’s not impossible to get it through what’s called fomite transmission,” Chanda said. Health. “If someone who has a lot of these actively replicating smallpox is sleeping in a bed and you have very close contact, it’s been documented. But it’s extremely rare.”
Only if the circumstances are right – there is active virus present on the fomite and a person touches their nose, mouth or other opening in the body after contact – is it possible for a person to can catch monkeypox, he explained.
So who needs to worry about transmission of monkeypox from infected surfaces or objects? At this stage, not many people. “Unless you’re around a known infected person, that’s not necessarily something you need to take precautions for,” Chanda said.
Based on current levels of community transmission, sitting in a restaurant or trying on clothes, for example, are likely very low-risk activities. Driving to the store and risking a traffic accident, Chanda said, is likely more dangerous than trying on clothes in the midst of this monkeypox outbreak, especially since the disease is usually not fatal.
“It doesn’t appear to be a major contributor to transmission in public spaces,” Dr Turner said. “It’s probably a bigger issue for certain settings, such as people who do laundry in hospitals or hotels.”
But if community transmission increases and monkeypox starts circulating in higher numbers in specific areas, Chanda added, it could be a good time for people to reconsider being extra careful and reintroducing preventative measures in communities. daily routines.
The good news is that although the monkeypox virus can hang around for a while, it’s not that hard to kill.
“Poxviruses are generally quite sensitive to most soaps, cleaners and disinfectants. They are not as difficult to kill as more resistant viruses like noroviruses for example,” explained Dr Turner. “Part of this is because smallpox viruses have an envelope — a lipid layer much like our own cell membranes — that is more prone to drying out or being destroyed by cleaning agents.”
This is especially true if the contaminated object is non-porous – a table counter, light switch or appliance, for example. If something is porous, like sheets, a couch, or clothes, it can hold on to the monkeypox virus for a longer period of time. These also tend to be the things that can have more direct contact with lesions on a person’s body, Dr. Turner added.
Even so, simple disinfection methods usually do the trick when it comes to disinfecting things you fear are fomites.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a website where people can filter products the agency has approved to kill certain viruses. Monkeypox, which is classified as a level 1 virus, can be killed by a long list of household hard surface products, including products with standard active ingredients like bleach, hydrogen peroxide and ethyl alcohol. The EPA website also includes disinfection recommendations for porous surfaces.
If something can’t be machine washed, try washing it in a tub with a cleaning agent, or seal the item and let it sit for 21 days, recommends the New York Department of Health.
After an individual has recovered from a monkeypox infection, it is important for them to disinfect all surfaces and objects they may have come into contact with to be safe, according to the CDC.
Even that, Chanda said, is probably more than necessary. The greatest risk of spreading monkeypox is still direct contact with someone else, which currently appears to be largely related to sexual activity. Disinfecting your home and space to make sure there are no fomites is definitely the best way to make sure the virus doesn’t spread to other housemates or guests, but the best thing a person can do is avoid that close contact.
Self-isolating for two to four weeks, covering lesions if possible, wearing a mask to prevent respiratory transmission, and washing your hands well are all simple ways Dr. Turner says can help a person stop the spread of the virus. monkeypox.
“If you’re near someone who has the infection then it’s probably a good idea to use a bleach-related product, but I don’t think we need to walk around hazmat suits to not catch that,” Chanda added. “Most of the transmission will be through very close and often intimate contact with someone, not some sort of casual transmission event.”
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