When monkeypox cases began to rise over the summer, scientists at the University of California, San Diego, experimented with a way to reduce community spread — surveilling wastewater for the virus just as they have for COVID-19.

“You cannot trace it back to an individual,” said Smruthi Karthikeyan, an environmental engineer and postdoctoral researcher in UC San Diego’s Center for Microbiome Innovation. “We can say if someone’s infected in a building or not, but it doesn’t say Person X is infected. It reduces the stigma, especially for monkeypox; there’s a lot of stigma associated with testing for that. It’s much easier to get that message across, and it doesn’t feel targeted.”

In 2022, nearly 24,000 monkeypox cases have been reported in the United States, with men who have sex with men making up the majority of those infected with the pathogen that belongs to the same family of viruses that causes smallpox. Monkeypox spreads via close contact, and concerns have been raised about the vulnerability of college students since they live in congregate settings — often swapping clothing, sharing beds and having sex with different partners.