The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the global monkeypox outbreak a public health emergency of international concern. As of July 28, monkeypox has been detected in at least 78 countries, and reported cases are currently on the rise in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Multiple people on social media (here, here, and here) claim monkeypox can potentially spread by touching clothing, bedding and towels that have previously come in contact with a person who has the virus.
“Think twice before trying clothes on in a store, and maybe bring your own linens/towels for any hotel or Airbnb stay,” one post said.
VERIFY viewer Holly wants to know if these claims are true or false.
Can monkeypox spread through touching contaminated clothing and linens?
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
- Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
- New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene
- California Department of Public Health
- Ilhem Messaoudi Powers, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Molecular Genetics at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine
- Stuart Campbell Ray, M.D., vice chair of medicine for data integrity and analytics in the Department of Medicine at Johns Hopkins Medicine
Yes, monkeypox can spread through touching contaminated clothing and linens.
WHAT WE FOUND
Monkeypox transmission most often occurs through direct contact with a rash or sores from someone who has the virus. But it can also spread from coming in contact with clothing, bedding, or other items used by an infected person, according to the CDC and the New York City Department of Health.
Another way monkeypox can spread is through respiratory secretions during prolonged, face-to-face contact, or during intimate physical contact, such as kissing, cuddling, or sex. However, monkeypox is not considered a sexually transmitted disease.
The California Department of Public Health says anyone can get monkeypox after having close physical contact with someone who has the infection, “especially contact with infected lesions, bodily fluids, or other contaminated surfaces.” However, the public health agency says “the current risk of getting monkeypox in the general public is very low.”
Symptoms of monkeypox can include fever, headache, muscle aches and backache, swollen lymph nodes, chills, exhaustion, and respiratory symptoms, such as a sore throat, nasal congestion, or cough. Some people may also develop a rash that may be located on or near the genitals or anus, but the CDC says it could also be found on other areas like the hands, feet, chest, face, or mouth.
“Monkeypox can spread from the time symptoms start until the rash has fully healed and a fresh layer of skin has formed. The illness typically lasts two to four weeks. People who do not have monkeypox symptoms cannot spread the virus to others,” the CDC writes on its website.
Ilhem Messaoudi Powers, Ph.D., an immunologist at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine, said it is a possibility for monkeypox to spread by trying on clothes worn by a person with the virus.
“The act of putting clothes on and removing them can scrape the skin. So, if someone with active monkeypox lesions tries on clothes and then someone else tries them afterward, there is a chance they can contract monkeypox. This is because some of the lesions can release their fluid, which is often full of live virus particles. This is the same for hotel room sheets and towels,” Messaoudi told VERIFY.
Messaoudi explained that it is currently difficult to determine how long the virus stays on clothes and linen after they have come in contact with an infected person, but she said contaminated clothing and bedding “should be cleaned thoroughly to avoid transmission.” Stuart Campbell Ray, M.D., the vice chair of medicine for data integrity and analytics in the department of medicine at Johns Hopkins Medicine, agrees.
“It's just a reason to be cautious when somebody who is highly symptomatic has been in an area — it's a good idea to clean,” Ray said.
Orthopoxviruses, like monkeypox, can survive in linens, clothing and surfaces, particularly when in dark, cool, and low humidity environments. Studies are currently ongoing about how long they can survive on surfaces where they're still viable and can infect somebody. But, the CDC says these viruses are sensitive to many common household disinfectants. In May, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published a list of disinfectants that may help kill the monkeypox virus on its website.
Oxiclean Laundry & Home Sanitizer is one of the products listed for disinfecting laundry against monkeypox. Several other products that contain bleach, alcohol, and hydrogen peroxide may also help disinfect items that have come in contact with the virus, according to the EPA.
The CDC, WHO and NYC Health say it is important for the person who has or had monkeypox to clean and disinfect their own clothing, bedding and other items they may have touched while infected. If that’s not possible, the person who is cleaning should wear a facemask and disposable gloves while interacting with these items.
Each agency shares tips on how to clean and disinfect clothing, linens, towels, and other items that may have come in contact with monkeypox, including the following:
- Gently put items, along with the bag used to collect them, in the washing machine.
- Avoid shaking items while taking them out of the bag.
- Use hot water or the highest temperature setting.
- Use regular detergent. You do not have to use chlorine or color-safe bleach, or another sanitizer.
- Dry your clean, wet laundry at the highest temperature allowed. Check item labels for instructions.
- Air-dry any items at home that cannot be dried in a machine.
- If you are in a laundromat or other shared laundry room, take your clean, dry laundry out of the dryer, put it directly in the clean bag, and fold it at home.
- Limit your time in public laundry spaces. If possible, go home between washing and drying your laundry, or go outside to avoid close contact with others.
For items that are not machine washable:
- Wash them in a sink or bathtub with detergent.
- Clean or disinfect those that came into contact with your rash or sores (such as watches, belts and hats) using the appropriate disinfectant from the EPA’s list.
- Put them in a sealed plastic bag for 21 days if they cannot be washed at home.
If you have a new or unexplained rash or other symptoms, the CDC says it is important to avoid close contact with others, including sex or being intimate with anyone, until you have been checked out by a healthcare provider. If you don’t have a healthcare provider or health insurance, visit a public health clinic near you.