The World Health Organization in July suggested that men who have sex with men should “for the moment” reduce partners and reconsider sleeping with new people as a way to slow monkeypox spread.
Sometimes rubbing against an infected person (aside from sex) isn’t enough to get you sick, according to Dr. Berry Pierre, an internal medicine physician who fights monkeypox misinformation on TikTok.
“Unless you have breaks in your skin, [the virus] being on your skin is not going to seal the deal,” Pierre told BuzzFeed News. “You still have to introduce it inside your body” by touching your face, mouth, nose, or genitals.
Still, it won’t hurt to wash your hands often, especially before and after eating. After all, we’re still in the middle of a deadly pandemic. (More than 300 people are still dying each day from COVID in the US.)
Other activities that involve extended close and skin-to-skin contact like raves and circuit parties, for example, do confer some risk, but that doesn’t mean you have to avoid these events if that’s what you enjoy doing.
“You can still enjoy yourself and have a good time, but maybe keep your shirt on or try to stick with friends or people you know throughout your time at a party or rave, etc.,” Hazra said. “Not meaning you have to deprive yourself of these experiences, but you can continue to do that but maybe in a safer way.”
Touching contaminated surfaces, objects, or fabrics
There isn’t enough data to know for sure the likelihood of contracting monkeypox by touching contaminated surfaces or materials, but one new study from Germany, published in June in the journal Eurosurveillance, shows the virus indeed survives on different surfaces — but whether these viral particles can infect someone remains unknown.
Researchers swabbed the hospital rooms of two monkeypox patients (both men in their 30s) on day four of their hospital stay and found monkeypox virus DNA on all the surfaces and materials the patients touched, with the highest loads in their bathrooms and toilet seats, as well as cabinet door handles “presumably” touched by medical staff.
Samples collected from researchers’ gloves, a soap dispenser, and a towel on one of the patients’ beds were able to infect cells in a lab dish, but the team couldn’t confirm if an actual infection is possible via contact with these surfaces, partly because we don’t know how much virus is needed to accomplish that.
A separate 2020 study found that a nurse in the UK contracted monkeypox in 2018 after touching a patient’s contaminated bedding, despite wearing a disposable apron and gloves.
It’s unclear how long monkeypox survives on different surfaces, but the CDC says that orthopoxviruses overall can survive in homelike settings for weeks or months, and that porous materials like bedding and clothing may harbor the germs for longer periods than nonporous ones like plastic, metal, and glass. One study found live monkeypox virus survived inside an infected person’s home for 15 days after they left. In general, the virus lives longer in dark, cool, and low-humidity environments.
Yet experts aren’t convinced touching contaminated surfaces is an effective means of transmission. If it was, the data would have shown that by now, especially in Europe and Canada where monkeypox has been spreading since the beginning of May, Hazra said. It is possible, however, to get sick this way if you’re living with an infected person, sharing the same surfaces and materials for hours or days at a time.