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Sex, 'casual contact' and pimples: A guide to separating monkeypox facts from fiction

Grace Toohey, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

But people should know the virus can be spread until lesions have healed completely and are covered by a new layer of skin, which can take weeks.

Are massage therapists or tattoo artists are risk?

Burstin said the risk remains very low for people who work in industries that come in contact with skin, but he said it's important to monitor for rashes or bumps.

"The safety is really very high," Burstin said. "If you don't see a lesion, the person is much more likely than not to not be infectious."

He said to be extra safe, professionals should wear gloves and increase cleaning protocols, but he didn't recommend drastically changing operations.

"The skin lesions are visible, and for the people who have them, they're painful, so hopefully people will notice," Gladstein said. He said there have not been any outbreaks among healthcare workers who provide care to patients with active monkeypox.

Should gyms, bars, swimming pools or public transportation be worrisome?

"What we're not seeing is casual spread. It's really got to be really close contact," Gladstein said. "The risk is going to be vanishingly low, close to zero."

Moore said there are certain precautions people can take in crowded spaces, such as wearing long sleeves and pants to limit skin-to-skin contact. He recommended wiping down equipment at the gym and washing your hands. But surface contact and short-term interactions are not how monkeypox is transmitted, experts say.

As for swimming pools, Burstin said he's not worried, given the chlorine and how anything in the water would be diluted.

He said there are scenarios, such as being at a club with an event for gay men where many people could be shirtless, that he would consider more risky. But most day-to-day interactions should not concern people. He said he wouldn't worry about brushing someone's arm at a bar or on public transportation.


"This type of contact disease is usually not that rapidly transmitted," Burstin said.

Can using condoms prevent the spread?

Unfortunately, condoms are not a foolproof way to prevent contracting monkeypox, but they can be protective, experts say. Researchers have noticed in this outbreak that many patients' lesions have been concentrated on genitalia or the anus — in which case a condom could provide protection — but just as many have reported infectious lesions elsewhere on the body.

"A condom is not going to be perfectly protective," Burstin said. "That doesn't mean people shouldn't wear condoms; it may give some degree of protection."

Monkeypox is not considered a sexually transmitted disease, but researchers are still trying to determine whether it can spread through semen or vaginal fluids. Some studies have indicated that possibility, so experts also recommend using a condom for a few weeks after recovering from the virus.

Does the smallpox vaccine provide protection?

Adults who may have received a smallpox vaccine could have some protection against monkeypox, but experts say it's very limited.

"There's not any significant protection as far as we know," Gladstein said. "They may end up with a slightly more mild case of monkeypox, but it's certainly not considered fully protective."

As with all vaccines, he said, protection wanes over time, and with the U.S. smallpox vaccine campaign ending in the 1970s, no one should rely on that inoculation.

People who got the smallpox vaccine are eligible for the Jynneos shot.

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