The fall semester begins soon, and colleges will have yet another public health challenge to deal with: monkeypox.
Over the summer, some universities began posting information about the disease online and held virtual question-and-answer sessions to clarify the spread of the virus and dispel misconceptions.
In the current outbreak, monkeypox has spread primarily through networks of men who have sex with men. But it was a fluke, driven by the virus that first landed in this community. Anyone can catch it through skin-to-skin contact with monkeypox sores, through other close contact with an infected person, or by touching contaminated clothing or bedding. In New York, people who identify as straight accounted for 2.6% of cases on Thursday, nearly double the percentage reported a week ago.
College students, who often live and socialize in close quarters, may be at higher risk.
“Students may be at elevated risk due to the way they socialize and the fact that they may be more likely to be in densely populated classrooms or social events or dorms or parties,” said Dr. Debra Furr-Holden, Dean of NYU’s School of Global Public Health. “And, although monkeypox is not an STD, sexual activity involves close personal contact,” which can lead to transmission.
In addition to NYU’s Furr-Holden, Gothamist spoke with public health experts from Columbia University and CUNY to ask about how best to keep students safe without causing panic.
“We have a rather unique opportunity with students [to spread awareness about monkeypox] because, in a sense, they’re a captive audience,” Furr-Holden said. “They get university-wide communications and they also get university protocols and wrapped in the protocols is messaging.”
Furr-Holden and others who spoke to Gothamist said it was important to educate students about symptoms and methods of transmission. They also encourage people to stay home if they are sick.
A monkeypox health alert posted on NYU’s website highlights symptoms students should watch out for, going beyond the characteristic lesions associated with the disease. He notes that symptoms can include “fever, headache, muscle and back pain, swollen lymph nodes, chills, exhaustion and a rash that may look like pimples or blisters. “, and indicates that anyone noticing these symptoms should contact the student health center and self-isolate.
Meanwhile, in a July 29 article on monkeypox, Columbia encouraged students to prevent the spread by asking their sexual partners if they had a rash or other symptoms of monkeypox; avoiding skin-to-skin contact with someone who has symptoms of monkeypox; and not sharing bedding, towels, clothing, or utensils with someone who has monkeypox. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that patients with monkeypox disinfect surfaces at home.