How to Stay Safe from Mpox This Summer

May 24, 2024

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We haven’t reached the summer solstice just yet, but by all other accounts, summer is here. With its arrival, summer brings celebrations of many kinds. As people gather at festivals and other crowded events, the risk for transmitting diseases like mpox increases. In Colorado, we are already seeing an increase in mpox transmission; there have been 61 cases in 2024 as of May 22. You might be wondering what exactly mpox is and how you can stay safe. Today, we’ll share just that, along with who’s most at risk and information on treatments and vaccines.

What is mpox?

Mpox is a viral infection that most notably causes a rash that can appear on the hands, feet, chest, face, mouth, or areas around the genitals. While most infected people will recover within 2 – 4 weeks, mpox can cause severe illness. The rash from mpox starts out looking like pimples, but progresses to blister and then scab and causes itching and pain. The rash is not considered fully healed until a new layer of skin has formed. 

Other symptoms of mpox include flu-like symptoms such as fever, chills, swollen lymph nodes, fatigue, and achiness. Sore throat, congestion, or cough may also occur. Symptoms of mpox begin within 21 days of exposure to and may not develop until up to that point. Flu-like symptoms appear first and the rash appears 1 – 4 days later. 

How is mpox spread?

Mpox is spread through close skin-to-skin, intimate, or sexual contact with an infected person. This includes contact with mpox rashes or scabs, contact with saliva, mucus, bodily fluids from an infected person, or extended close face-to-face talking and breathing. Mpox is also spread through contact with objects such as bedding, clothing, or surfaces used by an infected person. 

Mpox is a zoonotic disease, which means it can spread from animals to humans and vice versa. People infected with mpox should avoid contact with animals, including pets, to prevent further spread of the virus. 

It’s not clear if mpox can spread in pools, hot tubs, or splash pads, but the mpox virus is killed in water containing the proper chlorine level recommended by the CDC for disinfection. 

Who is most at risk of contracting mpox?

Anyone can get mpox. The virus does not discriminate. That said, data does indicate that certain people may be at increased risk. These include:

  • Men who have sex with men
  • Transgender people
  • Gender-diverse people
  • Sex workers
  • People who have had (in the last 6 months) or will have more than one sexual or intimate partner
  • People who have one or more sexually transmitted infections
  • People who have sex at large public events in areas with mpox transmission
What should I do if I think I’ve been exposed to mpox?

If you think you’ve been exposed to mpox, you should contact a healthcare provider. Currently, testing is only available to people experiencing a rash, sores, or bumps. Even if you have previously been vaccinated or infected with mpox, you should get tested if you develop a rash and think you may have been exposed. 

At your testing appointment, you will need to take preventive measures to ensure you don’t transmit mpox to others. You will need to wear a mask that completely covers both your nose and mouth and make sure that any rashes or sores are completely covered by either clothing or bandages. 

You can find a list of providers who offer mpox testing on the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) website.

If you do test positive for mpox, you will need to isolate yourself from others including those you live with and pets. You should not share any personal items such as soap or toothbrushes. Avoid using razors, contact lenses, and makeup until your rash is fully healed to keep from spreading mpox to other body parts. You should also wash dishes immediately after use. You can find more in-depth isolation guidance, including how to properly disinfect surfaces and laundry, from CDPHE.

You should also notify others with whom you have been in close contact after an mpox diagnosis. This includes not only sexual or intimate partners, but people you’ve hugged, cuddled, or kissed, or shared cups, utensils, towels, bedding, or other objects with. If you prefer to notify people anonymously, there are services like that will notify them and assist them with testing recommendations.

What about vaccines and treatments?  

There is not a specific treatment for mpox. Medicines like over the counter pain relievers and rash relief products can help manage symptoms. If you are at risk for or develop a severe infection, your provider may order antiviral treatment which will help lower the amount of the virus in your body. While we don’t have specific treatments for mpox, we can help prevent its spread by avoiding social gatherings such as raves, parties, or clubs where there is minimal clothing and a chance for close skin-to-skin contact. Staying home if you feel sick is another important way to prevent transmission of diseases like mpox. 

While avoiding gatherings and situations where mpox can spread this summer is helpful, the mpox vaccine is the best way to prevent the spread of mpox. Anyone who thinks they are at risk of exposure to mpox can be vaccinated. You should get vaccinated if you have had intimate or sexual contact with a person at risk of contracting mpox or who may have an mpox infection. Two doses of the mpox vaccine four weeks apart are needed for maximum protection. It will take two weeks after the second dose to be fully protected. Get vaccinated as soon as possible if you are exposed to mpox. 

The mpox vaccine can be given intradermally (between the top layers of skin) or subcutaneously into the fat layer underneath the skin on the back of the arm. Intradermal vaccination may leave a scar. You can ask for subcutaneous vaccination if you’d like to avoid the risk of visible scarring. Both methods of vaccination are equally effective.

You can find a list of Colorado mpox vaccine providers on CDPHE’s website. The vaccine is free and you will not need to show an ID or insurance to receive it.

Vaccines, like the mpox vaccine, are an important tool to ensure a safe and healthy summer. Ensure you and your loved ones are protected. If you have questions about mpox or the mpox vaccine, contact a trusted source of information like your medical provider or your local public health agency. 

Immunize Colorado was formed in 1991 in response to alarmingly low vaccination rates across the state. At the time, only about 50% of Colorado’s children were adequately vaccinated. A group of physicians and other concerned individuals came together to strategize how to protect Coloradans from vaccine-preventable diseases and increase vaccine uptake. Much work remains. Discover ways to support our commitment to healthy Colorado communities at our website or make a donation today!

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