According to a report by the US Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate, the monkeypox virus can remain stable for days and even weeks in refrigerated food and water.
Monkeypox continues to spread around the world with three new deaths last Friday and Saturday – the first such deaths confirmed outside Africa. Meanwhile, cases continue to rise, with more than 22,485 confirmed infections globally as of July 29, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Almost all have occurred in countries that have historically not reported cases of monkeypox.
There is a lot that scientists still don’t know about the outbreak, including why it is happening now when the disease has historically been endemic to West and Central Africa.
At the same time, experts know a lot about the disease, and a lot of details were presented in the DHS Science and Technology report, which was 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 described monkeypox as “very stable” in the environment and added that it “can survive on water, soil and refrigerated food for days to weeks.” It states that the virus can survive for months to years inside the crust.
The report didn’t say how long the virus could survive on surfaces, but the CDC said investigators found the virus alive 15 days after a patient had been evacuated, according to one study.
The CDC also noted that monkeypox-like poxviruses can survive in linens, clothing and surfaces, especially in dark, cold, dry environments. The CDC said that porous materials such as bedding and clothing can harbor live viruses longer than non-porous materials such as plastic, glass or metal.
Other closely related orthopoxviruses can survive in a home-like environment for months.
With regard to decontamination, the DHS report states that, as of 12 July, no data demonstrates the effectiveness of the most common disinfectant against monkeypox virus, but bleach is recommended against emerging viruses. It also said that tests with vaccinia virus, a close relative of monkeypox, show that Vircon, Dettol and Sanitex are effective.
Surviving on the surface is important because experts know that while sexual transmission has played a significant role in the spread of the disease this year, monkeypox can be spread through contaminated objects such as clothing.
The CDC said the virus can also be spread through direct contact with the rash, contact with body fluids, contact with respiratory secretions, and intimate contact such as sex, kissing, hugging and prolonged face-to-face contact. Pregnant women can spread the virus to their fetus. In addition, people can catch the virus from infected animals, including their meat.
According to the DHS report, the basic reproduction number, or R-value, for monkeypox is estimated to range from 0.57 to 0.96, although a maximum value of 1.25 has been observed. The R-number of a virus indicates how many people will be infected by each infected person.
However, the R-value for the current outbreak is not known. It is believed that the transmission rate of monkeypox has increased over time.