Americans hoping to dodge another virus now making its way through the country may be wondering if they should start sanitizing surfaces, stop touching their face and mask up once again.
Monkeypox can be spread through respiratory droplets, admitted Dr. Tom Inglesby, the director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, but there are some key differences between this virus and a coronavirus. Mainly, when it comes to transmission, it appears monkeypox is spreading through close contact between people.
“Monkeypox spreads between people primarily through direct contact with infectious sores, scabs, or body fluids. It also can be spread by respiratory secretions during prolonged, face-to-face contact. Monkeypox can spread during intimate contact between people, including during sex, as well as activities like kissing, cuddling, or touching parts of the body with monkeypox sores,” writes the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In other words, monkeypox can spread from mouth to mouth, but doesn’t appear to be spreading throughout a room full of people, hitting everyone along the way. That would suggest masks and face coverings are less relevant in the fight against monkeypox when compared to COVID-19.
However, there was some confusion caused by the CDC’s original travel guidance on monkeypox. The New York Times noted the agency posted the following advice before later removing it:
“Wear a mask. Wearing a mask can help protect you from many diseases, including monkeypox.”
The CDC told the Times it removed the advice “because it caused confusion,” but said people who are in close contact with someone with confirmed monkeypox should still consider masking up as an added precaution.
While the virus can be spread through respiratory droplets in the air, it’s not the primary way the virus appears to be going from person to person, Inglesby emphasized.
“It is not acting in a way like a disease that spreads through respiratory droplets or airborne dominantly does. So it’s not acting like influenza or covid or chickenpox or measles – things that spread quickly in an unvaccinated community. It is acting more like a disease that is spreading by close contact.”
It’s another factor that makes monkeypox spread less quickly than COVID-19.