The monkeypox virus can remain stable for days and even weeks on refrigerated food and in water, according to a report from the Science and Technology Directorate of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
Monkeypox continues to spread around the world, with three new deaths last Friday and Saturday — the first of such deaths confirmed outside of Africa. Meanwhile, cases continue to rise, with more than 22,485 confirmed infections reported worldwide as of July 29, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Nearly all have occurred in countries that have not reported cases of monkey pox in the past.
There’s a lot that scientists still don’t know about the outbreak, including why it’s happening now, while the disease has remained endemic in West and Central Africa in the past.
At the same time, there is also a lot that experts know about the disease, and a wealth of detail was presented in the DHS Science and Technology report, published on July 12.
The report covers everything from transmissibility to infectious doses. One section contains information about what we know about the environmental stability of the monkeypox virus, in other words, how long it can survive outside the body.
The report describes monkeypox as “very stable” in the environment and says it can “live for days to weeks in water, soil and on refrigerated food”. It adds that the virus can live in scabs for months to years.
The report doesn’t say how long the virus can survive on surfaces, but the CDC said researchers found the live virus 15 days after a patient’s home was left uninhabited, according to a study.
The CDC also said that smallpox viruses such as monkey pox can survive especially well in linens, clothing and surfaces in dark, cool, dry environments. Porous materials like bedding and clothing can hold live viruses longer than non-porous materials like plastic, glass or metal, the CDC said.
Other closely related orthopoxviruses can survive for months in a domestic environment.
With regard to decontamination, the DHS report said that as of July 12, no data shows the effectiveness of the most common disinfectants against monkeypox virus, but bleach is recommended against emerging viruses. The report also said testing with the vaccinia virus – a close relative of monkey pox – suggests the antiseptics Virkon, Dettol and Sanytex are effective.
Surface survival is important because experts know that although sexual transmission has played a major role in the spread of the disease this year, monkeypox can be spread through contaminated objects such as clothing.
The virus can also spread through direct contact with the rash it causes, contact with bodily fluids, contact with respiratory secretions, and intimate contact such as sex, kissing, cuddling and prolonged face-to-face contact, the CDC said. Also, pregnant women can spread the virus to the fetus. In addition, people can contract the virus from infected animals, including their meat.
According to the DHS report, the base reproduction number, or R-value, for monkeypox is estimated to be 0.57 to 0.96, although a maximum value of 1.25 has been observed. The R number of a virus refers to the number of people infected by each infected person.
However, the R-value for the current outbreak is unknown. The transfer rate of monkeypox is thought to have increased over time.