With more than 100 cases of monkeypox reported in Virginia, the University of Richmond is advising students who have symptoms to contact the Student Health Center. Beyond that, there are no campus-wide policies to prevent the spread of the virus.
There are 157 confirmed cases of monkeypox in Virginia as of Aug. 9, according to the Virginia Department of Health. At least one case has been reported in each of the state’s health regions. Seven cases have been reported in the state’s Central health district, where UR is located.
“As with all infectious diseases, the Student Health Center is monitoring the situation and is in touch with public health officials,” Latrina Lemon, the medical director of UR’s Student Health Center, wrote in an email to The Collegian.
Here’s what you need to know about monkeypox before returning to campus this fall:
What is monkeypox?
After the World Health Organization declared monkeypox a public health emergency of international concern on July 23, the Biden administration followed suit on Aug. 4.
Since then, nearly 90 countries have reported a total of 30,189 cases of monkeypox, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Aug. 9. More than 8,934 of those cases have been reported in the United States.
Monkeypox is a rare illness caused by the monkeypox virus, which comes from the same family of viruses that cause smallpox, according to the VDH. As a contagious rash illness, monkeypox can spread from animals to people and from person to person.
Anyone can contract and spread monkeypox and it is not considered a sexually transmitted infection. This outbreak, however, has mainly spread among gay, bisexual or other men who have sex with men, according to the VDH. The risk of contraction remains low at this time.
To prevent contracting monkeypox, the CDC advises avoiding physical contact with a person who has monkeypox lesions and not touching any objects that the person has used.
Symptoms of monkeypox usually start within six and 13 days after exposure, according to the VDH. For some, it begins with flu-like symptoms, including fever or chills, headache, muscle aches, backache, tiredness and swollen lymph nodes. For others, the illness’ characteristic rash may be the first symptom.
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After catching the virus, full recovery may take anywhere from two to four weeks, said Laurie Forlano, the deputy director of the office of epidemiology at VDH.
“And that's different as compared to other infectious diseases — it’s transmissible from the time a person has the rash lesion to the point at which those lesions resolve themselves,” Forlano said.
Of the two vaccines available in the United States, Virginia is currently supplying the JYNNEOS vaccine for those at risk, according to the VDH.
Monkeypox in Virginia
Middle-aged males have been most impacted by the monkeypox virus in Virginia, one female has contracted the virus as of Aug. 9, according to VDH data.
The expectation, according to epidemiologists, is that monkeypox is going to start moving into other communities as we get through the coming months, said Kathryn Jacobsen, an epidemiologist and professor of health studies at UR.
“Monkeypox could become a concern,” Jacobsen said. “And what I mean by that is that right now, there have been a few 1,000 monkeypox cases in the U.S. – and a few 1,000 out of 370 million-odd people who live in the U.S. are still pretty tiny. But as we have more cases, the likelihood of coming into contact with someone who has monkeypox will increase.”
College campuses present many opportunities for communicable disease transmission, Forlano said. It’s hard to predict where exactly outbreaks will occur, but the VDH is in regular contact with student health centers at colleges and universities throughout the state.
“We've already had some meetings with them [student health centers] just to make sure they're up to speed on what monkeypox is, where they can find information, where the medical directors can access testing supplies or how they might access help for their clients to access vaccine treatments,” she said.
With UR’s undergraduate student population representing almost all 50 of the United States and more than 60 countries, “the first two weeks of the term, there are going to be a lot of germs from all over the world that are brought to campus,” Jacobsen said.
Still, the infection that college students need to worry about going into the fall semester is COVID-19, she said.
“And so these first few weeks that everybody's back on campus — and less people are continuing to try to wear masks to reduce their risk of exposure — we could have a lot of COVID cases happening,” she said. “That's more likely.”
When to go to the Student Health Center
The CDC is asking those with monkeypox symptoms, including a new or unexplained rash, to visit their healthcare provider.
“As is best practice to prevent the spread of almost any disease, handwashing and staying away from others when feeling sick is recommended,” Lemon wrote. “With monkeypox, paying attention if you have an open lesion is important, and you should seek advice from a health care provider.”
Forlano said the VDH is recommending anyone with symptoms get tested and isolated until proper precautions are taken.
“Students should be aware of what the signs and symptoms are, and if you are in intimate relationships with others, having open, honest conversations with those people — for a variety of reasons — is really important,” she said.
The Student Health Center will resume patient care on Aug. 15. Its hours are Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Thursday from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
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