It’s time to reevaluate personal hygiene

Why changing our habits can stop the spread of monkeypox

Aambar Agarwal, Social Media Manager

On May 7, the first monkeypox case of 2022 outside of Central and West Africa was recorded. At the time, the World Health Organization (WHO) stressed that the risk of onward transmission was small, suggesting the insignificance of that case to the world. Yet, over the course of the next few months, monkeypox cases dramatically increased, reaching over 14,000 total confirmed cases in the United States alone. In a short time frame, the monkeypox outbreak became a public health emergency of international and national concern.

With case numbers going up daily, vaccines in short supply and governments feigning control, it is hard to say whether we are in the midst of the monkeypox outbreak or the beginning of another situation like the COVID-19 pandemic. In both, world leaders have failed in keeping us safe: They could not contain COVID-19, and have been unable to stop the spread of monkeypox. Thus, staying safe from these viruses falls on the heads of the masses. Just as preventional acts—like wearing masks and social distancing—has continued to protect us from COVID-19, we must change our habits to defend against monkeypox; in particular, individuals need to alter their approach to personal hygiene.

Monkeypox spreads through close contact with an infected person. This includes direct contact with monkeypox lesions, bodily fluids, respiratory secretions and surfaces—especially fabrics—used by an individual with monkeypox as the live virus can last on surfaces for up to 15 days. Therefore, to prevent infection, individuals must eliminate contact with such items. This involves refraining from close contact with unfamiliar individuals and surfaces, as well as regularly cleaning the used objects, fabrics and surfaces that an infected individual could have come into direct contact with. Parties and similar gatherings are risky. Used bedding needs to be washed. Even seats, tables and other furniture that are publicly used are safer when they are disinfected. 

Most individuals view such behavior as overly cautious and time-consuming, despite its merits. In hotel rooms, for example, a typical person will lie on the bed without a second thought, automatically assuming that the sheets must be clean. They do not know who used the room before them or if the hotel had the chance to change to a fresh set of sheets, yet they choose to believe the best. If an individual with monkeypox had stayed in the room before them and the sheets had not been washed or changed, the person lying on the bed would most likely contract monkeypox. That person may then go on to spread monkeypox to other unsuspecting individuals. 

The solution to this situation would be to simply wash the hotel sheets before lying down or bring your own clean set of sheets. Doing so would take hardly any time and guarantee your safety—similar to how brushing your teeth every day and washing your clothes after every use guards against bacteria and other viruses.

The same logic applies to other situations, especially on college campuses. In college, as we all know, students are in close contact with unfamiliar individuals and surfaces all day long—whether it is in classes, dorms, gyms or social gatherings. Moreover, college students come from all over the world, including monkeypox hotspots like Washington, D.C., New York and Europe, and often pass through these places while traveling; many students may inadvertently bring the virus with them to college. With these factors combined, monkeypox is sure to multiply on college campuses this fall. Even over the summer, many colleges reported monkeypox cases, like Georgetown University and the University of Texas at Austin.

Thus, to protect themselves and stop the spread, students need to adjust their personal hygiene habits. Parties and other large social gatherings with skin-to-skin contact should be avoided unless the proper precautions are taken. Bedding, if in contact with others, should be washed often. Even direct contact with fabric seats should be minimized, and it would be prudent to quickly disinfect any shared surfaces, like desks and gym equipment.

So, as we head into the new school year amidst the monkeypox outbreak, let’s change our habits. And while we do so, let’s not forget our old habits and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic either. Even with mask mandates easing, it is important to wear a mask properly indoors to stop the spread of COVID-19. Omicron is still at large with a surge in cases expected for this fall, and who knows when the next variant will crop up—or when the next virus will emerge on a global scale.