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Can you get monkeypox from a toilet seat? Transmissibility explored

Bruno Cooke August 5, 2022
Can you get monkeypox from a toilet seat? Transmissibility explored

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The Biden administration has declared the 2022 monkeypox outbreak a public health emergency in the US, but what do we know about its transmissibility? Can you get monkeypox from a toilet seat, or does it only spread via skin-to-skin contact?

Public health emergency declarations allow federal government to act faster to mobilise resources to fight outbreaks of disease. 

They also raise the profile of the emergency. So far, the US has confirmed more than 6,000 cases of monkeypox – more than any country in the world.

The severity of the outbreak, especially with covid-19 a living memory, raises questions about how the viral disease spreads and what people can do to prevent themselves from catching it. Here’s what we know.

In this photo illustration, a test sample tubes labeled ‘Monkeypox’ shown on a surface. Few confirmed cases of the Monkeypox virus have been detected in India.

Can you get monkeypox from a toilet seat? 

The primary mode of transmission of monkeypox is skin-to-skin contact. The most obvious way to catch it is by directly touching someone else’s monkeypox rashes and scabs.

But it can also spread via bodily fluids, including respiratory secretions from an infected person.

Intimate activity or prolonged face-to-face contact can also lead to the spread of monkeypox, along with touching surfaces an infected person has touched, such as clothing, bedding or towels.

While Healthline notes this mode isn’t as common as direct contact, this means it is technically possible to get monkeypox from a toilet seat. However, research suggests it happens rarely. In its primer on monkeypox transmission, Time Magazine adds there’s “little evidence” to suggest “incidental” contact frequently spreads the virus.

Vector illustration in HD very easy to make edits.

Why are you more likely to contract monkeypox from skin-to-skin contact than by sharing a toilet seat?

Time cites University of Saskatchewan virologist Angela Rasmussen in its claim “incidental” contact – a fleeting encounter – rarely leads to monkeypox transmission.

“You have to be exposed to enough virus to actually get infected with it,” she says.

If you sleep in the same bed as someone with the disease or use the same bath towel as them, you expose yourself to more of the virus. Touching a doorknob or sitting on a toilet seat for 30 seconds, meanwhile, is “much less likely” to result in you catching the disease.

In September 2018, a UK healthcare worker caught monkeypox from a patient. The mode of transmission was “probably through contact with contaminated bedding,” according to research. The bedding might have contained “skin lesion debris,” researchers concluded, which may have been “disturbed and inhaled when bedsheets were changed.”

Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Can a pregnant person spread monkeypox to their fetus through the placenta?

Yes. A pregnant person can spread the virus to their fetus through the placenta. 

However, data regarding monkeypox infection in pregnancy is “limited,” the CDC reports.

It’s not yet clear whether infection is more severe among pregnant people, or if pregnant people are more susceptible to the virus. 

What is clear, however, is a pregnant person can transmit monkeypox to the fetus before birth or to a newborn after birth. Additionally, there have been reports of adverse pregnancy outcomes, such as spontaneous pregnancy loss and stillbirth, among people with monkeypox.

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What you can do to reduce the risk of infection

Airborne transmission is rare. This is part of the reason it’s unlikely there will be lock-downs to prevent the spread of monkeypox

The vast majority of cases so far have been due to prolonged intimate skin-to-skin contact between male partners. But it’s not technically an STI. That’s because there are other contexts in which it can spread, such as sports teams, spas and college dorms. 

Time quotes infectious diseases lecturer Dr Müge Çevik as stressing: “Every single exposure [does not carry equal] risk.”

“People really need to know where to be vigilant. For example, reducing new partners may be more useful than cleaning chairs you’re sitting on in a coffee shop.” 

And the same, presumably, goes for toilet seat transmission – while you can technically get monkeypox from brief contact with surfaces, keeping an eye on instances of prolonged, intimate, skin-to-skin contact will make more of a difference to your chances of catching the virus.

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Bruno is a novelist, amateur screenwriter and journalist with interests in digital media, storytelling, film and politics. He’s lived in France, China, Sri Lanka and the Philippines, but returned to the UK for a degree (and because of the pandemic) in 2020. His articles have appeared in Groundviews, Forge Press and The Friday Poem, and most are readable on Medium or onurbicycle.com.