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Home HEALTH How Universities Prepare for Monkeypox: NPR - news primer

How Universities Prepare for Monkeypox: NPR – news primer

Lake Forest College in Lake Forest, Illinois is prepared to help students isolate themselves if they test positive for monkeypox.

Courtesy of Lake Forest College


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Courtesy of Lake Forest College


Lake Forest College in Lake Forest, Illinois is prepared to help students isolate themselves if they test positive for monkeypox.

Courtesy of Lake Forest College

Andrea Connor has become “the accidental COVID czar” of Lake Forest College, a small school north of Chicago where she serves as dean of students.

“When COVID started, our crisis management team multiplied,” she says.

Now, he’s relying on that same team to respond to a new health threat: monkeypox.

“There’s a lot of fear, a lot of worry,” says Connor. “So we want to educate people.” His team is putting together a guide detailing the signs and symptoms of monkeypox and what a student should do if they think they might be infected. Monkeypox is much less contagious than COVID-19, but Connor says being prepared is the school’s job.

Ahead of the new school year, universities across the country are repurposing the tools they developed during the pandemic to tackle the monkeypox outbreak, which the White House recently declared a public health emergency. It’s a different virus, with different risks, and universities have to adapt, says Dr. Lindsey Mortenson of the American University Health Association (ACHA).

“A lot of colleges and universities are thinking about ‘how do we turn the page institutionally?’ Mortenson says, “‘How do we take all these informed public health practices and apply them in a different context?’ ”

The risk of contracting monkeypox is low, but universities are starting to see cases

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “the risk of contracting monkeypox in the US is thought to be low.” More than 7,000 cases have been confirmed in the US as of Thursday, though experts say that number is likely higher due to testing limitations.

Monkeypox is most often associated with a rash that can appear anywhere on the body, including the face, feet, hands, genitals and inside the mouth, the CDC says. But symptoms can also include fever, headaches, and muscle aches.

The virus is spread through physical contact with the monkeypox rash, and the vast majority of people affected by the current outbreak appear to contract it through sexual contact. Cases have been largely concentrated in the gay and queer community, primarily among men who have sex with men. but the CDC says sexual contact is not the only way the virus can spread. Direct face-to-face contact or indirect contact with the rash may lead to transmission, although data shows this is less common.

As a result, experts say, everyone should pay attention to the virus.

“No outbreak is limited to just one social network,” says Dr. Jay Varma, an epidemiologist at Weill Cornell Medical College. He adds that while the virus has been concentrated in the gay and queer community, “there’s no biological reason why it can’t spread to other groups.”

On college campuses, says Varma, the areas to watch are those where students come into close physical skin-to-skin contact with others, including locker rooms, gyms, or even theater groups.

The virus has already appeared on some college campuses. Georgetown University in Washington, DC, the University of Texas at Austin and West Chester University in Pennsylvania told NPR they had at least one confirmed case over the summer.

At West Chester University, spokeswoman Nancy Gainer says: “The student is in isolation and continues to do very well. There is a plan for them to finish their class remotely, and the student will not be returning to campus for the summer term.” . “

On July 28, the ACHA, which represents more than 700 higher education institutions, emailed its members basic information about monkeypox, but more detailed guidance is still being developed, says Rachel Mack, director of communications of the ACHA. She says that the ACHA is now coordinating with the CDC to schedule a webinar and they are also creating an FAQ document to share with members.

“This is all in the early stages and we are currently putting together a team of experts to help finalize the issues that are of paramount importance to [institutions of higher education]”, says Mack, in an email to NPR. “Our goal is to respond to the needs of our members and meet those needs as quickly as we can.”

Monkeypox requires a longer isolation period than coronavirus

COVID-19 is usually contagious for less than 10 days, but a monkeypox infection can last a few weeks. That means a student who contracts the virus may need to isolate for a significant portion of their semester.

“This presents a very significant challenge for the individual, who has to put up with that level of isolation, as well as for the university, which needs to make arrangements to put up with it,” says Varma.

One challenge is that most universities have switched back to in-person instruction after going fully remote in 2020. The schools told NPR they are still determining what remote learning will look like for isolated students.

At the University of California, Irvine, where all classes are back in-person, students in isolation are working directly with their faculty members to decide how to learn remotely, says David Souleles, who leads the COVID-19 response team. 19 from school. “Instructors are encouraged to have a plan in advance for such cases,” he explains.

When it comes to where Students with monkeypox would be isolated, there is great variability between universities, even in places where schools had housing reserved for students who tested positive for COVID.

“Some are holding back isolation housing for COVID, or whatever infectious disease that may be needed,” says Mortenson. “Others have completely given up their inventory.”

At Lake Forest College, Andrea Connor is working on housing logistics and says the school plans to help students self-isolate if they test positive for monkeypox. They will also help students meet their basic needs, including meals and laundry.

At West Chester University, which serves more than 17,000 residential and commuting students, Gainer says the school is “committed to following CDC guidelines and having students [who test positive for monkeypox] self-isolate”.

In Ithaca, NY, at Cornell University, the campus health unit has released a online resources with information on monkeypox. The school is “developing testing, treatment and isolation protocols for those affected,” says Rebecca Valli, director of media relations. “We are also considering potential academic impacts and adaptations that may arise.”

Students are concerned about the stigma of monkeypox

Because 99% of cases in the US are related to male-to-male sexual contact, according to The OMSthere is growing concern about stigma and prejudice against the LGBTQ community.

That bias can have negative public health consequences if it prevents an infected person from seeking treatment and informing close contacts of potential exposure, an important step in mitigating spread.

Student Liz Cortes, who co-directs the Alliance of Queer and Trans Students at UT Austin, says they are frustrated by the ongoing stigma and are waiting to see if the university will address it. If the school doesn’t, “we would make it a priority to work with public health officials to provide accurate information and address misconceptions about the virus and our community,” Cortes tells NPR in an email.

UT Austin did not immediately respond to a request for comment on how it intends to address stigma concerns. But school health services place states that “anyone can get monkeypox, regardless of age or gender.”

Some colleges are working with student groups to coordinate education and response efforts. At UC Irvine, Souleles says the school has convened a task force that includes representatives from the LGBT Resource Center. “We’re also looking at guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on reducing stigma in communicating about monkeypox,” she says.

Student privacy is another concern. At many larger schools, including UT Austin, the University of Michigan, and UC Irvine, health centers are equipped to test students for monkeypox. But other schools, including Lake Forest, currently don’t have the resources to test.

Lake Forest students have to leave campus to get tested at one of five nearby labs, says Andrea Connor. One of those labs is an STI clinic, and if a student gets tested there, their insurance might bill it as a test for a sexually transmitted infection, even though monkeypox isn’t considered an STI, Connor says.

“Some members of our community wouldn’t want their parents to see that on their insurance,” explains Connor. “So there are a lot of layers there.”

Still, Connor says he’s hopeful about the fall semester.


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