(NEXSTAR) – As the number of confirmed cases of monkeypox in the United States approaches 10,000, the Food and Drug Administration is taking measures to expand vaccine access and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is asking people to keep an eye out for potential symptoms.
Experts are still working to understand all the ways this virus is spreading so quickly through the public. Based on what we’ve seen so far, it appears monkeypox can spread in several ways, according to the CDC.
Monkeypox is primarily spreading through close skin-to-skin contact, experts say. With this outbreak, that close contact appears to be happening often during sex, but the contact doesn’t have to be sexual in nature to spread the virus. Any “direct contact with monkeypox rash, scabs, or body fluids from a person with monkeypox” can spread the virus, the CDC says.
The virus can also spread by contact with some surfaces, the CDC says. The agency list objects like bedding, clothing, towels and sex toys as possible sources of transmission if they have been used by someone with an active infection and have not been disinfected.
“I don’t think I would worry too much about these very casual encounters with inanimate objects,” said Dr. David Wohl, a professor in UNC School of Medicine’s Division of Infectious Diseases, in an interview with WTVD. “You’re not going to catch this at a restaurant. You’re not going to catch this off of a park bench. Trying on clothes I would say that’s pretty unlikely. You would have to have somebody, who right before you tried on clothes, who had lesions with monkeypox virus.”
The virus may survive longer on porous materials – like towels and bedding – than on non-porous materials like plastic or glass, the CDC says.
Still, while the virus may be able to live on surfaces, surface transmission doesn’t appear to be a key driver of new cases, experts say.
Dr. Jessica Justman, an infectious disease specialist at Columbia’s medical school, told BuzzFeed News that even if it’s possible in theory, “I think getting monkeypox by trying on clothing in a store that somebody who is incubating monkeypox might have tried on just seems really far, far away from something that would happen.”
There are a few other ways monkeypox can spread, as outlined by the CDC. Pregnant people can transmit the virus to a fetus through the placenta, for example. Animal-to-human transmission is also possible, “either by being scratched or bitten by the animal or by preparing or eating meat or using products from an infected animal,” the CDC writes.