Monkeypox can live in the air – but only for a short time
The monkeypox virus can also be spread through respiratory droplets that a person infected with monkeypox exhales onto another person. This contact would have to be very close and sustained – a long face-to-face conversation or kissing are some examples – for the virus to spread in this way.
That means yes, monkeypox can live in the air – but not in the way you might imagine. The idea of whether you can get monkeypox from the air is “probably one of the most contentious areas right now,” says Dr. Chin-Hong – and he emphasizes that it is important to understand what we mean by “from the air”.
Unlike COVID, the monkeypox virus is not thought to linger in the air for long. That means if someone with COVID exhales respiratory droplets, those droplets can hang in the air for some time, exposing the next person who enters that room to the coronavirus. The monkeypox virus doesn’t work the same way, says Dr. Chin Hong. “COVID is, by definition, a respiratory virus,” he notes. “It’s not monkeypox.”
“In general, it’s not going to be how we think about ‘droplet’ or ‘air’ and COVID,” he says. You can’t get monkeypox from casual conversation or passing someone with monkeypox – say in a store.
So how else could you theoretically catch monkeypox “in the air” if not through very close talking or kissing? Here, sharing a home with someone who has monkeypox definitely offers more opportunities for transmission of the virus.
dr Chin-Hong points to the example of a person with monkeypox sleeping in a bed whose monkeypox rash scabs on the bed sheets. When another person comes in the next morning and changes those sheets and waves them around in the air, “these little crusts are filled with a virus that can survive for some time but then blow up, and if you breathe it in, you can.” be attacked by monkeypox.”
Some people have contracted monkeypox this way in homes, says Dr. Chin-Hong – but “only because these little crusts are momentarily floating in the air”. For this reason, the San Francisco Department of Public Health specifically warns against shaking out sheets and towels that have been used by someone with monkeypox.
If you’re sharing a home with someone who’s contracted monkeypox, it’s fair to be concerned about viruses on shared surfaces – but there are steps you can take.
If you share a home with someone with an active monkeypox infection — or if you have monkeypox yourself and want to protect your roommates — it’s best to be aware of how monkeypox can spread in a home and take the appropriate steps to prevent it stop the spread of the virus.
If someone in your household has monkeypox…
You should not share materials such as bedding, clothing, and towels. They should also not share any cooking or eating utensils.
As with COVID, the ideal is for someone isolating with monkeypox to use their own bathroom exclusively, separate from the rest of the household. But depending on your home setup, this may not be possible.
Be extra careful around laundry, especially bedding
like dr Chin-Hong said above, bedding and linens can pose a particular risk because the lesions of a person with active monkeypox virus can rub against these materials. Ideally, a person with monkeypox should do their own laundry and change their own bedding. Linens and linens should not be shaken out in case scabs are airborne and inhaled.
If you need to do laundry or change bedding for someone with monkeypox, consider wearing a mask and eye protection to avoid this type of contamination, and wash your hands very thoroughly afterwards.
If you have monkeypox and cannot avoid being in the same room with other people, the WHO advises you to cover the rash or lesion with clothing or a bandage. This way, there is a far less chance of spreading the virus to shared materials or surfaces within a home.
Anyone who thinks they have been exposed to monkeypox at home or through their network should seek a vaccine.
The CDC recommends that a person’s monkeypox vaccine be given within four days of the date they were exposed to monkeypox for the best chance of preventing onset of the disease.
If a person receives the vaccine between 4 and 14 days after exposure, the vaccine may relieve monkeypox symptoms but may not completely prevent the disease. Read more about finding a monkeypox vaccine near you.
Follow cleaning protocols to reduce the risk of spreading
Yes, monkeypox can live on shared surfaces and potentially spread across them through repeated contact. But as Harvard Slate’s Syra Madad said, “The monkeypox virus is a DNA-based virus and it’s a bit silly in that you can actually kill it with household disinfectants and UV lights and the like.”
The CDC recommends regularly cleaning and disinfecting your household spaces to prevent the spread of monkeypox. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a list of approved monkeypox cleaners and disinfectants that includes common items you may already own, such as Lysol and Clorox. If you don’t already have these products at home and are isolating with monkeypox, you should consider home delivery options or ask friends or family to ship cleaning products to your home.
Even if you are self-isolating alone with monkeypox in your home, the CDC still recommends regularly cleaning and disinfecting your rooms when you are able to, to limit household contamination for anyone who later enters your home .
Read the CDC’s complete guide to cleaning and disinfecting your home during a monkeypox infection.
Monkeypox sounds scary – but don’t let the fear of COVID transmission distract you
Monkeypox can be scary. Especially if you are part of a community that has been particularly affected by the spread of the virus.
But despite these natural fears, Dr. Chin-Hong to remind you that “at this point, you’re much more likely to get something like COVID than you are monkeypox. Although I know it really scares people.” Monkeypox isn’t nearly as contagious as COVID-19.
You shouldn’t be ashamed to worry about how the monkeypox virus spreads. It’s an understandable fear – not least because we’ve been here before with COVID.
Two years ago, the idea of surface transmission of the coronavirus was very strong in public awareness, as the early public health news surrounding COVID-19 emphasized strict handwashing and hygiene practices and videos such as “How to Grocery Shop Safely During the Coronavirus” huge views were achieved. And while good hygiene practices remain important around the coronavirus, more recent and complete data has taught us that respiratory transmission between people poses a far greater risk.
Still, it’s hard not to hear the fears about monkeypox and pathogens without being transported back to the troubling early months of the COVID pandemic – a pandemic we still find ourselves in, even as we work to protect our communities from protect new public health threat from monkeypox.
What other questions do you have about monkeypox?
If you have other questions about monkeypox, we want to hear them. If you can’t find an answer in this post or in our guide to monkeypox symptoms or in our guide to finding a monkeypox vaccine in your area, you can use the box below to ask your question. What you send us will strengthen our coverage of monkeypox and help us decide what to report here on our website and on KQED public radio.
Please note that we cannot contact anyone directly with a question and we cannot provide individual medical advice. If you are concerned about monkeypox or any other health issue, we urge you to contact your doctor or a local community clinic if you do not have insurance. (See our list of community hospitals in your county.)