Monkeypox: How it spreads, prevention and risks
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How monkeypox spreads
Current evidence suggests that monkeypox spreads in 3 ways:
- from person to person
- through direct contact with contaminated objects
- from animals to humans
Health authorities across Canada and internationally are monitoring this situation as it evolves. We're still collecting information about how the virus spreads at this time, including looking into:
- atypical infection presentations
- different modes of transmission
- the possibility of asymptomatic transmission
Person to person
Monkeypox can spread from person to person through contact with an infected person's lesions or scabs that may be found on the skin or mucosal surfaces (such as eyes, mouth, throat, genitalia, anus, or rectum).
It may also be possible for it to spread through contact with an infected person's body fluids such as blood, saliva, and semen.
- during sexual contact, including oral and non-penetrative contact
- when providing care
- when living in the same household
The virus may spread through respiratory particles, such as from talking, breathing, coughing or sneezing, during close contact. But we're still gathering information on that mode of transmission.
We don't know yet if an infected person with no symptoms can spread the virus to others.
An infected pregnant person may also pass on the virus to their developing fetus through the placenta.
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You could also become infected by coming into direct contact with personal items used by an infected person, including:
- other shared objects, for example:
- sex toys
Animal to human
The animal reservoir of monkeypox is currently unknown. However, African rodents are suspected to be the main sources of monkeypox in the wild, including certain species of:
Other animals can also be infected, including primates, such as monkeys, where the monkeypox virus was first identified. In 2003, the virus was transmitted to pet prairie dogs in the U.S. when they were exposed to rodents imported from Africa. However, the full range of animals susceptible to monkeypox, particularly in North America, remains unknown at this time.
The virus can spread from an infected animal to a human through direct contact such as a bite or scratch.
Humans may also become infected if they:
- prepare or eat undercooked meat of infected animals
- come into contact with an infected animal's body fluids
Risk of getting monkeypox
Anyone can get infected and spread monkeypox if they come into close contact with someone who has the virus, regardless of:
- gender or
- sexual orientation
Since May 2022, there have been cases of monkeypox in several countries where the disease is not normally found, including Canada.
Currently, person to person transmission is occurring in Canada. In line with international trends, the majority of cases in Canada to date are men who reported intimate sexual contact with other men. However, it's important to stress that the risk of exposure to the monkeypox virus is not exclusive to any group or setting.
Having multiple sexual partners may increase your overall risk of infection.
Provincial, territorial and local health authorities are continuing to monitor for and investigate cases of monkeypox in Canada as the situation evolves. The Public Health Agency of Canada updates this information as it becomes available.
Preventing the spread of monkeypox
You can help reduce your risk of becoming infected with or spreading the monkeypox virus by:
- staying home and limiting contact with others if you have symptoms, or as recommended by your health care provider
- avoiding close physical contact, including sexual contact, with someone who is infected with or may have been exposed to the monkeypox virus
- maintaining good hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette, including:
- covering coughs and sneezes with the bend of your arm or
- wearing a well-fitting mask
- cleaning and disinfecting high-touch surfaces and objects in your home, especially after having visitors
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To lower your overall risk of getting infected with and spreading the monkeypox virus or sexually transmitted infections, we recommend:
- using condoms
- practising safe sex and
- having fewer sexual partners, particularly those who are anonymous, even when they don't have symptoms
If you think you may have been infected with the monkeypox virus, learn more about:
- Symptoms of monkeypox infection
- Getting tested for monkeypox infection
- Care and treatment if you have been diagnosed with monkeypox infection
If you operate a non-health care community setting that the public can access, you should:
- assess the risks associated with monkeypox spread, and
- put in place appropriate measures to reduce the risk of monkeypox spreading within your setting
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