Colleges warn students of monkeypox risk


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One by one, cases of the painful viral infection surfaced this summer in George Washington, Georgetown and American universities. Now, these schools in the nation’s capital and others across the country are warning their communities to be on the lookout for the potential spread of monkeypox in the coming weeks as students return to campus for the fall term.

The public health campaigns targeting monkey pox come as colleges and universities manage the third back-to-school season overshadowed by the coronavirus pandemic. Students and teachers long for normality after the disruptions of the past two years.

That could complicate efforts to combat a threat very different from Covid-19. Health authorities say monkeypox spreads through intimate contact, often skin to skin, including but not limited to sexual encounters. Authorities also warn of possible spread through respiratory secretions or touching bedding or towels used by someone who is infected.

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This all sounds like conditions that could arise in college dorms, on dance floors, or in other campus spaces.

“Now we need to address two public health emergencies at once,” said Ranit Mishori, vice president and chief public health officer at Georgetown. “It is very difficult for staff, students and teachers.”

Mishori said officials in Georgetown are aware of two recent cases within their community. GWU and AU officials also have confirmed cases. The news site Inside Higher Ed reported this month that cases have also surfaced at the University of Texas at Austin and West Chester and Bucknell Universities, both in Pennsylvania.

Emory University president Gregory L. Fenves said the Atlanta campus is preparing for the new health threat and is aware that the coronavirus pandemic has not gone away. “People are tired of covid,” he said. “This public health fatigue problem is a real one.”

One of the most sensitive issues colleges face is how to communicate about an outbreak that has so far spread in the United States primarily among men who have sex with other men. “We don’t want to stigmatize sexual behavior,” said Lynn R. Goldman, dean of public health at GWU. She noted that monkeypox is not a sexually transmitted disease, and condoms don’t protect against it.

The American College Health Association said in a statement: “Anyone can get monkeypox, so campuses should communicate it as a public health problem for everyone; However, campus communications can be tailored to different audiences to be most effective. Regardless of the audience, it is important that communication convey compassion, reduce stigma and appeal to justice.”

Mishori said schools should inform athletes, coaches, administrators and others about the virus. “We recognize that everyone is at risk, regardless of gender or sexual orientation,” she said.

In recent days, universities have been warning communities about how the virus spreads, the signs of infection — painful rashes resembling pimples or blisters, then scabs — and the extent of the threat it poses.

“Currently, the risk of on-campus monkeypox transmission is very low and with proper safety measures there is no cause for major concern,” David S. Reitman, the medical director of the AU’s Student Health Center, wrote in an Aug. 8 post. . to the community. “Monkeypox is less contagious and less likely to cause serious illness or death than COVID-19.” The chance of infection in classrooms and normal daily activities is low, Reitman wrote.

Spyridon S. Marinopoulos, chief medical officer of the University of Maryland, urged people on campus on Aug. 9 to take “everyday precautions” to protect themselves, such as washing hands regularly and avoiding “close, skin-to-skin contact with people who have a monkey pox-like rash.”

Mass vaccination, a solution that many universities embraced to protect themselves against the coronavirus, is not yet being considered with monkeypox. Stocks of the monkeypox vaccine are limited and health authorities are giving priority to those at high risk.

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Campus health centers will be on the lookout for what monkeypox rash looks like, officials say, and will provide viral testing if students need it. The turnaround time to get results can be up to five days, Mishori said, and students with suspected cases should be isolated until they know if they’re infected.

Those with confirmed infections should isolate further, Mishori said, possibly two weeks or more. Depending on the configuration of dorms and rooms, that could mean that an infected student would temporarily move into a hotel room on the Georgetown campus.

Those are some of the undesirable scenarios colleges and universities everywhere are playing out as fall approaches.

“We’re all kind of on deck right now in terms of thinking ahead — what are we going to do if?” said Goldman of GWU. “What if, what if, what if?”

The Valley Voice
The Valley Voice
Christopher Brito is a social media producer and trending writer for The Valley Voice, with a focus on sports and stories related to race and culture.


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