What to know about monkeypox transmission

Doctors are learning more about how this virus spreads in real-time.

August 16, 2022, 3:22 PM

With U.S. monkeypox cases surpassing 11,000 in the past week, many are asking how to best protect themselves and reduce their risk.

ABC News consulted with specialists who have studied or treated monkeypox, including ABC contributors Dr. Darien Sutton and John Brownstein, Ph.D, to categorize various behaviors and activities into different risk levels.

Researchers warn that in the midst of an ongoing outbreak, the medical community is learning more about how this virus spreads in real-time. Public health officials say each person should carefully consider his or her own potential for exposure and risk tolerance level.

How Monkeypox Spreads: Risks and Behaviors
How Monkeypox Spreads: Risks and Behaviors
ABC News Photo Illustration

Most Risky

Currently, most of the transmission seems to be occurring through sexual encounters. Limiting your number of sexual encounters, avoiding spaces where intimate, often anonymous sexual contact with multiple partners occurs and wearing condoms and protective clothing are some ways that may minimize your risk of exposure, according to the CDC.

Any prolonged skin-to-skin contact, including hugging and kissing someone who is positive, is another likely method of transmission.


Living with someone who is positive increases the risk of transmission. This is especially due to the possibility of contact with towels, sheets and linens that someone who is positive used.

Sharing food or shaking hands with someone who is positive may also be risky.

Less Risky

In everyday life, speaking to someone who is positive over a long period may be risky due to prolonged face-to-face contact. Because respiratory droplets are a possible mode of transmission, just like COVID-19, wearing masks is an effective way to reduce your risk.

Activities involving crowds where social distancing isn't possible like festivals, events and concerts may lead to transmission if you come into contact with someone who has an exposed rash or lesion. Spaces where attendees are fully clothed and skin-to-skin contact is minimal may be safer, according to the CDC.


When walking past others or brushing past someone who is positive is an unlikely route to getting infected.

Transmission via water from a swimming pool or hot tub is also unlikely. However, when in these spaces, it is common to not be fully clothed and come into close physical contact with towels and other people. Be sure to always remain aware of your surroundings.

Generally using public spaces where you may touch hard surfaces such as public transit, gyms and restrooms are typically of minimal risk. But experts say it is always a good idea to wash hands frequently and use an EPA-registered disinfectant on high-touch surfaces.

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