Will Monkeypox Put Dent in Thrifting Over Transmission Scares?

Monkeypox continues to spread across many countries with 31,800 cases reported globally by Wednesday, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It was not long ago that the World Health Organization (WHO) announced a major alert about monkeypox, prompting questions and concerns over its transmissibility rate and how the virus evolves.

The spread prompted many to rush for the vaccine, and others, such as universities, were urged to prepare for potential outbreaks as they brace for the academic year to begin this month. Now, concerns are rising over whether monkeypox could impact thrift stores as more people become scared of transmission.

Monkeypox spreads through touching contaminated surfaces or being in direct contact with an infected person's rash or body fluids. It could also spread through contact with infected animals and prolonged face-to-face contact. Those infected experience symptoms such as fever, headache, body aches, swollen lymph nodes, chills, exhaustion, respiratory symptoms like a sore throat or cough, and a rash that can look like pimples or blisters, according to the CDC.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus also noted that the current global outbreak is "concentrated among men who have sex with men, especially those who have multiple partners."

Will Monkeypox Put Dent in Thrifting
Concerns are rising over whether monkeypox could impact thrift stores as more people become scared of transmission. Above, a shopper stands in a thrift store operated by the Hope Center on June 21 in Hagerstown, Maryland. Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Can Monkeypox Spread in Thrift Stores?

Some concerns were expressed on TikTok about monkeypox potentially impacting thrift shops in a way that would "kill thrifting as a hobby." Those fears stem from the fact that a person can be infected from touching contaminated items, including fabrics.

However, Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told Newsweek on Thursday that he doesn't think this is a "major risk."

"Most people who are contagious with monkeypox and have a painful rash are not going to be wanting to try on clothes, and I think transient contact with clothes—such as what happens when people try on clothes—is not a major risk," Adalja said, adding that he doesn't believe thrift stores need to take special precautions.

Additionally, Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, a professor of medicine specializing in infectious disease at the University of California, San Francisco, told SELF that monkeypox spreading due to shopping for used or new clothes is "very unlikely."

"It's very difficult to get infected with monkeypox through clothing, except in a household-context situation with lots and lots of contact," Chin-Hong said, referring to a person who is living with someone who is infected.

However, Chin-Hong explained that a person is at risk of contracting monkeypox if they rub their skin along a contaminated fabric until they get microscopic cuts on the skin through which the virus could enter the body.

Dr. Jay Varma, a Population Health Sciences professor at Weill Cornell Medical College, told Newsweek that it is "theoretically possible" for a person to get monkeypox after wearing the same clothes worn by another person infected with the virus.

"But just because an activity is theoretically possible does not mean it is likely," Varma clarified. "For this to happen, the person would have to have monkeypox skin lesions, those lesions would have had to rub off on clothes, the person would then have to donate the clothes without washing them, have the store sell them without washing them, then have enough virus surviving on the clothes to infect another person. This sequence of events is incredibly unlikely."

Varma also said that shoppers don't have to avoid thrift stores and added that standard laundering practices recommended by the CDC are enough to protect against monkeypox.

Growing Monkeypox Concerns

Others expressed general concerns that went viral on social media, claiming that the virus spreads by touching someone else's clothing.

Though there is less risk of getting infected through clothing, according to some experts, a study by Eurosurveillance, which assessed the hospital rooms of two monkeypox patients, found that fabrics "extensively used" by patients contained viral contamination. Additionally, the CDC said on its website that the virus can spread by "touching items (such as clothing or linens) that previously touched the infectious rash or body fluids."

Dr. Andrew Lee, professor of public health at the University of Sheffield in the U.K., told Newsweek last month that the virus can spread "through contact with contaminated clothing, linen used by an infected person."

"Although I think direct contact with the infected skin lesions probably pose a higher risk," Lee said.

Newsweek reached out to the Salvation Army thrift store for comment.