The White House recently declared monkeypox a public health emergency as the U.S. leads the world in confirmed infections since the outbreak began.
There were a total of 7,510 cases reported in the country as of Friday, up from 3,487 cases the previous week, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
As of Aug. 5, there were 95 confirmed monkeypox cases in North Carolina, with 53 reported in Mecklenburg County, according to data from the county health department.
With monkeypox spreading rapidly throughout the U.S., some have wondered whether the virus can be transmitted through the air similarly to COVID-19.
So is Monkeypox airborne or not?
— Diana Zicklin Berrent (@dianaberrent) August 1, 2022
What the CDC says about airborne transmission
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, monkeypox can spread through “respiratory secretions” when an infected person coughs, sneezes, talks, or laughs.
Airborne transmission occurs when small virus particles are suspended in the air and stay there for periods of time, the CDC said in a statement. These particles can spread through the air and can infect people who enter a room after the infected person has exited.
Monkeypox can be found in respiratory droplets like saliva that drop out of the air quickly, the CDC says. So far, the airborne transmission of monkeypox has not been confirmed.
The CDC added that it has yet to be determined whether monkeypox can be spread through casual conversation with an infected person, or walking by someone with monkeypox in public.
The virus can be transmitted through skin-to-skin contact with rash lesions, sexual contact or sharing bed linen or clothing with an infected person, according to the CDC.
Should you wear a mask to protect against monkeypox?
Although monkeypox is yet to be considered airborne in the same way that COVID-19 is, health experts say masks are effective in preventing respiratory infections.
There have been some cases where monkeypox was transmitted from surfaces contaminated with respiratory droplets or fluid from lesions, which is why people should wear masks, said Emily Landon, the executive director for infection prevention and control at the University of Chicago.
Those steps can also help prevent people from contracting the virus, according to the CDC:
Avoid skin-to-skin contact with people who have a rash that looks like monkeypox.
Avoid contact with objects and materials that a person with monkeypox has touched.
Wash your hands often with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer before eating or touching your face.
The CDC recommends that people infected with monkeypox wear masks if they are going to be around others in their homes, where face-to-face contact is likely. Ideally, the CDC said, people with monkeypox would remain in isolation for the duration of the illness, which typically lasts two to four weeks.