Can Monkeypox Spread Through Objects like Doorknobs? An Expert Explains as U.S. Cases Surpass 6,500

On Thursday, the Biden Administration declared monkeypox a public health emergency as the U.S. counts for more infections from the virus than any other country in the world

As the United States counts more infections from monkeypox than any other country in the world, health experts are providing more details on how the virus is transmitted.

As of Wednesday, the U.S. has 6,617 confirmed cases of monkeypox, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The virus spreads primarily through skin-to-skin contact as well as respiratory droplets. While that may sound similar to COVID-19, Dr. Linda Yancey, infectious disease specialist at the Memorial Hermann Health System in Houston, tells PEOPLE that "this is not a respiratory virus. It is not like COVID, which spreads primarily through the air."

"Monkeypox is transmitted by skin to skin contact. And that can be any kind of skin to skin contact. I know a lot of the cases here have been transmitted through sex, but it's not a sexually transmitted disease," she explains. "Basically, sex involves a lot of skin to skin contact but so does dancing, so does kissing, so does shaking hands, or doing things like wrestling or football. So there's a bunch of different ways that can be transmitted. Any skin to skin contact is a big risk."

"That being said, it can be spread by large respiratory droplets," Yancey adds. "So if you are face to face with someone for a prolonged period of time, you potentially could spread it that way. But that's not really been the main driver in this particular outbreak, it really has mostly been skin to skin contact."

Monkeypox. Getty

Camille Seaton, a Georgia woman who has documented her monkeypox experience on social media, said she believes she contracted the virus from handling money at the gas station she works at.

According to Yancey, it is "absolutely a possibility" for monkeypox to be transmitted through items like money as the virus can survive for days in an environment.

"So, monkeypox is a sibling of smallpox. Remember that old story of the U.S. military giving smallpox-infected blankets to Native Americans? This could absolutely be transmitted in that fashion," Yancey says. "And in fact, one of the cases in the U.S. was a lady who was exposed to bed linens. She cleans Airbnbs for a living. So any high touch items like money, doorknobs, shopping carts, have the potential for transmission. Now, we do not have to shelter in place. Once again, this is not COVID."

Hand sanitizers and cleaners are highly effective at killing this virus, according to Yancey. Health experts also suggest returning to social distancing practices and limiting close contact, which can lower the risk for infection.

monkey pox
Monkeypox lesions. Courtesy of CDC/Getty Images

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Monkeypox can also be prevented with the Jynneos smallpox vaccine, which is also effective against monkeypox, even when administered after a person is diagnosed, according to the CDC.

"I am a bit concerned because the kids are about to head back to school. You know, this would go through say a wrestling team like wildfire," Yancey tells PEOPLE. "So everybody needs to be warning their kids. Wash your hands. Use hand sanitizer. Just something parents should be aware of."

"This is something to be concerned about and aware of, but it is not time to panic," she assures. "This is a mild, self-limited disease. We have not had any deaths outside of Africa. Also, there is a safe, effective vaccine for this that is being rolled out by the federal government. And hopefully we can get all our at-risk citizens vaccinated."

Along with the Jynneos vaccine, medical professionals have also used antiviral treatments, such as tecovirimat (TPOXX), for monkeypox with patients who are more likely to get severely ill.

The Biden Administration announced Thursday that the U.S. is declaring monkeypox a public health emergency, following behind the World Health Organization, which declared the virus a public health emergency on July 23.

During a briefing, Robert Fenton Jr., the White House's newly appointed national monkeypox response coordinator, said the decision will allow officials to "explore additional strategies to get vaccines and treatments more quickly out to the impacted communities. And it will allow us to get more data from jurisdictions so we can effectively track and attack this outbreak."

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