Can You Catch Monkeypox at Hair and Nail Salons?

Two experts breakdown what's fact and what's fiction.

Beauty Salon
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When COVID-19 was declared a pandemic in 2020, it changed the way we view going to the salon. Getting a haircut or a manicure was not longer a simple moment of self-care, but an activity that could potentially cause illness. So, both salons and customers set extra precautions in place to keep everyone safe.

With monkeypox recently declared a public health emergency of international concern by the World Health Organization (WHO), do we once again need to take a similar approach to visiting the hair and nail salon?

TikTok, Reddit, and Twitter have been flooded with questions about whether it's possible to catch monkeypox while getting beauty treatments. Ahead, two disease specialists separate fact from fiction.

First, What Is Monkeypox?

Monkeypox is a curable disease caused by the monkeypox virus. The virus is part of the same family as the variola virus, which causes smallpox. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), monkeypox is rarely fatal, and the symptoms are similar to those of smallpox.

It's also important to note that while the virus is currently being spread in the U.S., it's been an endemic in Central and Western Africa for years, with little to no media attention from the rest of the world.

Symptoms can include: fever, headache, muscle aches and backaches, respiratory issues (sore throat, nasal congestion, or cough), swollen lymph nodes, chills, and a rash that resembles puss blisters or blisters that typically appear on the face, and/or hands, feet, chest, genitals, and anus. The CDC says that the rash often appears first, and some people may only experience the rash.

Monkeypox is spread person to person through direct contact with the infectious rash, blisters, or bodily fluid. However, it can also be spread through respiratory secretions during prolonged face-to-face contact or intimate physical contact. It can be spread from the time symptoms start to when the rash/blisters are fully healed.

So, Can You Catch Monkeypox at the Hair Salon?

While monkeypox is typically spread through close human contact, an investigation by the CDC found that the virus can contaminate surfaces, like chairs, tables, etc., but it was not able to be cultured. This means that it may not cause infection.

So, can you catch monkeypox from high contact surfaces while getting a new set of highlights or a blowout at the hair salon?

Dr. Syra Madad, an Infectious Disease Epidemiologist at Harvard's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, says that activities where there is prolonged skin-to-skin contact are more generally higher risk and leading to monkeypox infections. Thankfully, getting a haircut or color haircuts doesn't fall under this category. That being said, the salons should be taking safety precautions as they have done with COVID-19.

"Staff should practice good hand hygiene and basic infection prevention and control measures like cleaning and disinfecting after each client including any equipment used," Dr. Madad says. "Additional precautions including wearing a well-fitted mask and eye protection will add another layer of protection to prevent contact from respiratory droplets during close, prolonged face-to-face interactions."

What About Catching Monkeypox at the Nail Salon?

While skin-to-skin contact is required during a manicure or pedicure service and you may even chit-chat with your technician as they do your nails, the risk still remains relatively low.

"Some cases of airborne transmission have been documented — again, in sustained interactions, not in brief conversations — and there is a theory that this occurs when the infected individual has lesions in their mouth that are infectious," says Dr. Jessica Holzer, an Assistant Professor in Health Sciences, Department of Population Health and Leadership, at University of New Haven. There is a low likelihood of coming into contact with monkeypox in salons, but where skin contact is sustained, the chances that contact with a lesion will result in infectious spread increases.

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How Can You Prevent Getting Monkeypox?

The best way to prevent getting monkeypox is to follow good hygiene practices such as washing your hands, and disinfecting surfaces and textiles such as towels and robes, and to communicate with individuals you have close contact with about their activities and whether they're at risk.

The Bottom Line:

It's important to be aware of who you come into close contact with and to practice best hygiene practices, but you don't need to alter your lifestyle in the same way we did with COVID-19.

"We do not need to alter our lifestyles as extremely as we did during COVID stay-at-home orders, but we need to be on our best behavior when thinking about our own risk factors and those of our close contacts," Dr. Holzer says. "Monkeypox is worth being aware of, especially in the salon service industry, but it is not a cause for alarm throughout most populations and it is possible to avoid it."

And with that said, if you suspect you may have contacted monkeypox, reschedule your next hair or nails appointment. "People who have monkeypox should isolate until their rash has healed, all scabs have fallen off, and a fresh layer of skin has formed," Dr. Madad says. "They should especially avoid going to places with crowds, or [do] activities that require skin-to-skin interactions — including salons and massage parlors."

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