As monkeypox cases rise, health expert says travelers shouldn’t worry about casual contact

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As monkeypox spreads, travelers may worry about the health risks.

But with high demand for travel as the coronavirus pandemic subsides, Dr. Michael Phillips, chief epidemiologist at NYU Langone Health, said those looking to take a trip shouldn’t worry.

World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus declared monkeypox a global health emergency over the weekend, and more than 18,000 cases have been confirmed worldwide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And while more than 17,800 of those cases are in “countries that have not historically reported monkeypox,” according to the CDC, Phillips said the typical traveler need not worry.

“This is when people want to travel, and I’m sure they’re worried about losing their luggage,” he said. “They shouldn’t add monkeypox to their list of concerns.”

What is monkey pox?

According to the WHO, people catch monkeypox through “close contact” with an infected person or animal. Transmission can also occur through contact with contaminated material.

“Monkeypox virus is transmitted from person to person through close contact with lesions, bodily fluids, respiratory droplets and contaminated materials such as bedding,” the WHO website states. The disease is not usually seen outside of Africa, but cases have recently been found in North America, Europe and elsewhere.

In the United States, the Biden administration is stepping up testing and vaccines as the number of cases rises, but deaths have only been reported in Africa, where a more dangerous version of the virus is circulating.

Should travelers be worried about monkeypox?

The CDC issued a Level 2 travel health notice in late May warning travelers to “take enhanced precautions,” advising them to take steps like washing their hands often and avoiding touching their faces. But the agency said the disease posed a low risk to the general public.

Phillips said the typical tourist or business traveler shouldn’t worry.

He said “prolonged close physical contact” is a risk, such as between families in the same household or through sexual activity, but there is a very low risk of transmission through casual contact. Phillips said he was not aware of any transmissions on planes.

“We’re not worried about airborne transmission,” he said. “We don’t even care about sitting next to someone.”

Phillips also noted that most cases of monkeypox found in places like Western Europe, the United States and Canada have occurred in men who have sex with men, and travelers may want to be cautious if they have sexual contact with someone abroad. But he stressed the importance of not perpetuating a stigma around the disease, as anyone can be infected.

“Viruses don’t know your sexual orientation,” he said.

How can travelers protect their health?

Phillips said the risk of exposure while traveling has less to do with where you’re going than what you do when you get there. He said protecting yourself is mostly a matter of “risk avoidance”, like not sharing a bed or having close physical contact with someone you don’t know and “being smart about that stuff. “.

And while patients with lesions can contaminate linens, he said the cleaning and laundry that hotels do between guests is sufficient.

More than two years into the coronavirus pandemic, when many travelers may have COVID on their brains, Phillips said monkeypox is different.

“It’s not rapidly transmissible like COVID or the flu or other respiratory viruses, so with good public health measures, education…and vaccination, there’s a good chance it will be controlled,” did he declare.

UK reports 104 more cases of monkeypox, mostly in men

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