Do You Need to Worry About Monkeypox at the Gym?

gym interior

Monkeypox is currently spreading globally, with new cases popping up every day across the United States.

As the infection can be spread via close physical contact, including through extended contact with infected materials like sheets and clothing, it’s reasonable to be concerned about getting exposed to the virus at the gym. Unfortunately, gym goers are inconsistent (at best) with cleaning equipment before and after use.

Does this actually mean that you have a higher risk of exposure if you go to the gym?

How Does Monkeypox Spread?

Erica Susky, an Infection Control Practitioner (ICP) in hospital epidemiology, describes the spread of the virus by stating, “Monkeypox spreads via intimate contact through the rash and from contaminated objects, though there is a risk of transmission through the latter route, it is not as great as when coming in direct contact with the rash.”  

Most of the current documented cases of Monkeypox in the United States have been linked to close physical contact, including sexual relations. This has, inaccurately, led many people to believe that Monkeypox is a sexually transmitted infection (STI). Any close physical contact, including non-sexual contact, can lead to transmission. Exposure to contaminated objects can also transmit the virus, though the risk is much lower this way.

What Are the Symptoms of Monkeypox?

Susky went on to explain, “It can start to spread at the initial stage of illness, which feels like the flu, until the lesions or scabs have all fallen off. The infectious period can be as long as 28 days. As the initial stage of the illness can feel like other illnesses, including COVID-19, until a rash becomes visible, it is wise to continue with lessons from the pandemic; to not go out, or use a gym, when ill.”

If you have cold or flu-like symptoms, or if you notice new sores on your body, take the same precautions that you would if you had COVID. Do your best to isolate yourself and avoid exposing others. Speak with your doctor or another healthcare provider about the next steps if you think you may have symptoms of Monkeypox.

How Can I Protect Myself from Monkeypox?

Protecting yourself from Monkeypox, especially at the gym, starts with intentional hygiene. Wash your hands before and after exercising, and be sure to wipe down all of the equipment you use before and after each exercise.

“The virus can spread if it comes in contact with one’s nose and mouth. Hand hygiene can assure this will not occur via an indirect route,” Susky explains.

She went on to indicate that while transmission via contaminated surfaces is less likely than close physical contact if you want to further protect yourself, you can try to wear clothes that cover your skin well and create a barrier between yourself and the equipment you’re using. When you get home, remove the clothing and place it in a hamper or similar location.

Susky also emphasized the golden rule of gym etiquette: wipe down your equipment.

That’s something you should be doing already. Being a good member of your gym community means you are wiping down your equipment, reracking your weights, and not making others uncomfortable. In the face of a global pandemic, that first rule is especially important.

“Monkeypox is an enveloped virus, which is the viral protein being coated in a fatty layer envelope,”  Susky concluded by looking at the current scientific consensus on Monkeypox as a point of optimism, “What is reassuring is that enveloped viruses do not last well in the environment outside of their host compared to non-enveloped viruses (such as the norovirus). Therefore, the monkeypox virus can be easily killed by many available disinfectants.”

Wrap-Up: What to Know In a Nutshell

  • The World Health Organization has declared monkeypox a global health emergency.
  • Monkeypox is spread through close contact with an infected individual.
  • Vaccines are currently in short supply in the United States but are readily being made available. Getting vaccinated is the best way to protect yourself.
  • Monkeypox spreads via intimate contact through the rash and from contaminated objects, but the latter has a lower risk of transmission.
  • The initial stage of the illness can feel like the flu, a cold, or COVID-19.
  • The infectious period can be as long as 28-days.
  • The best way to protect one’s self in the gym is by performing frequent hand washing.
  • Wearing clothes that will cover larger areas of skin that may have the opportunity to come in contact with exercise equipment providing a physical barrier between one’s self and gym equipment can reduce the risk of exposure via contaminated materials.
  • Disinfect frequently touched areas of gym equipment before and after use (you should be doing this anyway).

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