Breaking Down 3 Monkeypox Myths

Put your monkeypox knowledge to the test as we demystify common misconceptions about this virus.

Diagnostics Testing|Aug.29, 2022

We're surrounded by signs and instructions. From stoplights at intersections to how-to guides attached to appliances, it's helpful to have guidance for navigating our lives each day.

But what about instructions for how to live life during a new virus outbreak?

With over 40,000 confirmed monkeypox (MPV) cases around the world and the World Health Organization's declaration that monkeypox is a public health emergency of international concern, it’s important to stay informed to protect ourselves and our loved ones. Separating fact from fiction can be challenging when you have endless information at your fingertips.

Test your monkeypox knowledge as we dispel three major myths.

Myth 1: Monkeypox primarily spreads through the air like COVID-19.

While there is still much to learn about monkeypox, primary transmission between people is more likely to occur when there is direct contact with a rash the virus causes on the body or when there is direct contact with bodily fluids, which can be left on surfaces, that contain the virus. While we can't rule out that some respiratory transmission may be possible with prolonged close contact, Jorge Osorio, resident monkeypox expert from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Abbott Pandemic Defense Coalition partner, said that you can be reassured that this virus isn't another COVID-19: "Monkeypox is commonly spread through direct physical contact, so it's less transmissible than COVID-19."

The Virus Hunters
The Virus Hunters

While scientists continue to study if the virus can spread when someone has no symptoms and how the virus may spread through bodily fluids, including saliva and stool, there are steps you can take to protect yourself. To prevent the spread of monkeypox, the CDC recommends avoiding skin-to-skin contact with people who have a rash that may be a sign of monkeypox, not touching objects or materials a person with monkeypox has used, including clothing or linens, and washing hands frequently.

The Salt Lake County Health Department studied two roommates who tested positive for monkeypox to determine how household objects are affected by the presence of the virus. The roommates' routine cleaning and disinfection practices likely had an impact on decreasing the ability of the virus to live on surfaces, which meant indirect transmission to others by touching surfaces they also touched was less likely. Generally, disinfecting your home can help prevent the spread of germs.

As you're planning for back-to-school, vacations, and other gatherings, practice good personal hygiene, consider packing alcohol-based hand sanitizer, and avoid wearing minimal clothing in crowded group settings.

Myth 2: Monkeypox can spread through water.

Public health researchers conduct wastewater surveillance to analyze used water from household appliances, sinks, toilets, businesses and other facilities to track the spread of COVID-19. Although SARS-CoV-2 can be shed in feces, there isn't any information to date that individuals can get sick with COVID-19 because of direct exposure to treated or untreated wastewater. This is also thought to be the case for monkeypox – wastewater surveillance is utilized for this virus to understand its levels in communities.

WastewaterSCAN is a nationwide initiative between Stanford University and Emory University that looks for both COVID-19 and monkeypox in wastewater. Marlene Wolfe, an environmental microbiologist and epidemiologist at Emory who is working within the initiative, said, "We don't have any expectations or concerns about monkeypox spreading through drinking water."

Drinking water goes through an extensive treatment process, and its source is separate from wastewater. Public water systems treat the source of people's drinking water, which is either surface water or ground water, so debris and bacteria are removed long before you fill your glass at the kitchen sink.

Myth 3: Monkeypox is a sexually transmitted disease.

Monkeypox is part of the virus family that causes smallpox and is currently not considered a sexually transmitted disease or infection. The CDC says that monkeypox can be spread to anyone through close, personal contact, which can include sexual contact. A study published in The New England Journal of Medicine found that, in 95% of cases, sexual contact was the most likely reason why a person in the study group caught the virus.

To reduce the risk of getting monkeypox at public venues, such as concerts, it's recommended to minimize skin-to-skin contact and to keep to venues where people will be fully clothed. Otherwise, keep to the back of the crowd and enjoy the extra space to dance. 

If you think you have been exposed to monkeypox or are experiencing monkeypox symptoms, such as an unexplained rash, fever, and chills, seek medical attention. Healthcare providers, like your physician or an emergency department clinician, can swab a rash and send that swab to a laboratory for testing, which will take a few days to process. You can schedule an appointment for a vaccine through your local or state health department if you know that you were exposed to monkeypox or are in one of the at-risk groups listed by the CDC.

Virus outbreaks don't come with instruction booklets attached. But with the help of public health experts and dedicated researchers, we have ways to defend ourselves from getting sick.