Colleges warn students of monkeypox risk

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One by one, cases of the painful viral infection have emerged this summer at 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 guard against the potential spread of monkeypox in the coming weeks as students return to campus for the fall term.

Public health campaigns centered on monkeypox come as colleges and universities handle the third back-to-school season clouded by the coronavirus pandemic. Students and educators are hungry for normalcy after the disturbances of the previous two years.

This could complicate efforts to combat a much different threat of covid-19. Health authorities say monkeypox is spreading through intimate, often skin-to-skin contact, including but not limited to sexual encounters. Authorities are also warning of possible spread through respiratory secretions or by touching bedding or towels used by an infected person.

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All of this sounds like circumstances that might occur in college dorms, on dance floors, or in other spaces on campus.

“Now we have to manage two public health emergencies at the same time,” said Ranit Mishori, vice president and chief public health officer at Georgetown. “It’s very difficult for staff, students and teachers.”

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

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

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

The American College Health Association said in a statement, “Anyone can get monkeypox, so campuses should communicate it as a public health concern for everyone; however, campus communications can be tailored to different audiences to be more effective. Regardless of the audience, it is important that communications convey compassion, reduce stigma and address equity.

Mishori said schools should educate athletes, coaches, goalies 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, signs of infection – painful rashes that look like pimples or blisters, then scabs – and how much of a threat it is. ‘it represents.

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

Spyridon S. Marinopoulos, chief medical officer at the University of Maryland, urged people on campus Aug. 9 to take “daily precautions” to protect themselves, such as washing hands regularly and avoiding “close, skin contact. to skin with people who get a rash that looks like monkeypox.

Mass vaccination, a multi-faceted solution universities embraced to protect against the coronavirus, is not yet being studied with monkeypox. Supplies of monkeypox vaccine are limited and health authorities are prioritizing people at high risk.

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Campus health centers will be alert to what monkeypox rashes look like, officials say, and will arrange for virus testing if students need it. The turnaround time for results could be up to five days, Mishori said, and suspected students should self-isolate until they know if they are infected.

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

These are among the undesirable scenarios that colleges and universities around the world are considering as the fall term approaches.

“We’re all sort of on deck right now in terms of thinking about the future – what are we going to do if?” said Goldman of GWU. “What if, what if, what if?”

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