Smallpox cases, spread and symptoms on college campuses pose challenges

For the past two years, college and university administrators have welcomed the start of the fall semester with a mix of excitement and trepidation over the coronavirus pandemic.

This year, even as COVID-19 continues to spread, universities are facing another public health threat: monkeypox, which so far it has predominantly affected men who have sex with men but can be spread skin-to-skin contact with anyone, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

It is unclear whether the college social scene will accelerate the spread of smallpox. However, at several college campuses in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware, specific policies and guidance on monkeypox are still being refined, with a couple of schools yet to release updated information even as students they prepare for the move.

» READ MORE: Philly releases new data on monkeypox outbreak. Here’s what we learned.

It raises questions not only about universities’ preparedness, but also about what role they can play when national messages have become muddled and the federal vaccine supply is limited. Without enough vaccine, education is key to mitigating the spread and combating misinformation as colleges wait to see if monkeypox will spread faster on their campuses than in the general population.

It goes without saying that 18- to 22-year-olds who live alone can be known to engage in intimate physical activities. They don’t just have sex, they get along, dance shoulder-to-shoulder at house parties and bars, share vapes and red Solo cups, and live with roommates in tight spaces.

How college students can protect themselves from monkey pox

Monkeypox is spread through skin-to-skin contact or prolonged face-to-face contact, as well as direct contact with materials that have touched the rash, scabs, or body fluids of someone who has the virus.

It is not a sexually transmitted disease and condoms do not protect against it. Transmission can occur outside of sexual activity.

Someone is contagious from the time symptoms appear until a new layer of skin has formed over the rash. This can take two to four weeks.

Colleges in the Philadelphia region advise students to:

  • Talk honestly with your sex partners about the symptoms of monkeypox and don’t kiss, hug, cuddle or have sex with anyone who has symptoms, which may include a rash, fever, swollen lymph nodes, headache or body aches , general malaise and exhaustion.
  • Avoid parties or clubs where there is direct and skin-to-skin contact.
  • Do not share utensils or cups with someone who has smallpox.
  • Do not touch the bedding, towels, or clothing of someone who has chickenpox.
  • Wash or disinfect your hands often.

Sources: Penn State University Health Services, University of Delaware Student Health Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

“I know we’re going to see some cases at Temple, because college students share things and they are who they are,” said Thomas Trojian, assistant clinical director of Temple University Student Health Services. But he said he believes the virus won’t spread faster than anywhere else.

Over the course of the two-month outbreak, there have been 362 cases reported in Pennsylvania, 367 in New Jersey and 10 in Delaware as of Wednesday, according to the CDC.

There is no public database of cases among university students. But even before the fall semester begins, cases have been confirmed at several universities across the country, including Penn State, West Chester, Bucknell, George Washington University, American University and the University of Texas at Austin.

Although no one in the United States has died from the virus, it causes painful and infectious injuries, requires isolation for up to 30 days, and threatens to exacerbate existing stigma and discrimination against members of LGBTQ communities, which several leaders students said they were. more worried than getting sick themselves.

» READ MORE: Feds promise more monkeypox vaccine soon for Philly region

“I think a lot of the concern is less about the virus itself and more about the homophobic moral panic that’s starting,” said Eitan Runyan, president of the Temple Queer Student Union.

Muggs Leone, a student employee at Penn State’s Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity, said she has also heard her colleagues express concerns about stigma.

“As far as physical security, I haven’t heard anything,” he said.

Student leaders said they want their universities to tackle the virus head-on, similar to how they responded to COVID, though they acknowledge the viruses are very different. This, they say, can also help reduce stigma.

So far, some universities have communicated through online newsletters and emails; others have not provided information or guidance on monkeypox since early summer.

Some said they hope to eventually offer the vaccine. But for now, doses are extremely limited, with even the Philadelphia Department of Public Health receiving fewer vials than it would like.

When a traveling West Chester University student contracted monkeypox in July, spokeswoman Nancy Gainer said the experience spurred the university to begin circulating information to students about the virus and how it spreads.

The student is doing well, Gainer said, and completed the summer distance learning class. A health department investigation determined they had no close contacts in Chester County, he said, and there have been no other confirmed cases at the university.

» READ MORE: Blacks in Philadelphia at higher risk of smallpox, but receive only fraction of vaccine doses

Penn State announced Wednesday that a student on the main campus, who lives off campus, tested positive for smallpox last week.

No other local or state universities would say whether there had been cases among students or staff.

At Penn State, where more than 40,000 undergraduates return to its main campus this weekend and classes begin Monday, its smallpox guide was also released Wednesday.

Students who develop symptoms should make an appointment with University Health Services, Rebecca said Simcik, medical director of the center. The health center is working with the state Department of Health to provide testing and vaccinations, he said.

At the University of Pennsylvania, where freshmen are moving in starting Monday, spokesman Ron Ozio told The Inquirer that “any information we have for students will be posted online when it’s ready.”

In Newark, the University of Delaware launched a web page with information about monkeypox on Thursday, about a week before the move.

Drexel University, which is on a quarter system, doesn’t start classes until September 19. Spokeswoman Niki Gianakaris pointed a reporter to an FAQ the university released in late July.

Drexel officials said the health center can test for monkeypox and obtain an antiviral drug for severe cases. It will work to get the vaccine if it is more available.

“We anticipate seeing cases among students and have already begun testing,” Marla Gold, director of wellness and senior vice chancellor for community health, said in a statement. “It’s in Philadelphia and the region. We’re ready for it.”

Temple can test for monkeypox, Trojian said, but would refer students to the city health department if they may be eligible for vaccination.

West Chester can also do testing, Gainer said, and has told the Chester County Health Department that it is willing to offer the vaccine if it becomes more available.

In New Jersey, where Rutgers begins classes after Labor Day, university spokesman Kevin Lorincz said a monkeypox advisory was sent out this week, advising students to consult their doctors about suspected disease or exposure.

“The university does not have access to the smallpox vaccine and will not provide treatment,” Antonio M. Calcado, executive vice president and chief operating officer, said in the statement.

One reason for the delays in communication may be that colleges are waiting for more up-to-date guidance from public health officials, said Jennifer Horney, founding director of the University of Delaware’s epidemiology program who has worked with the university on your answer

“I think the challenge has been since we started working on our messaging a week ago, the guidance has already changed,” he said.

University leaders also want to ensure communications don’t stigmatize members of LGBTQ communities, he said.

“We want to focus on high-risk populations,” Horney said, “but not at the expense of letting everyone know that this is not just a risk for men who have sex with men, it’s a more wide”.

Monkeypox also raises complicated logistical questions, such as what to do with the 30-day isolation time: whether to provide isolation housing or rely on students to self-isolate, and how to ensure that students can continue to attend classes virtual

At Temple, Trojian said the school will advise students to return home. If they cannot, and cannot isolate themselves from their roommates, the university will work to provide isolation housing, just as they do for students who test positive for COVID-19.

Elsewhere there are similar strategies.

“Since the isolation period can be up to four weeks, students on campus should expect to make arrangements to complete their isolation at home,” Penn State officials say in their guidance, noting that the staff will work with anyone who is “unable to travel”. “

In West Chester, Gainer said the university will house students in a hotel if off-campus isolation is not possible.

Some student leaders said they were concerned about the mental health and well-being of students, especially those from LGBTQ communities, who may have to return home to environments where they are not as accepted as they are on their campuses.

Drexel, meanwhile, is in the process of designating isolation spaces, Gianakaris said.

University administrators said they also want to stress that monkeypox is not sexually transmitted and anyone can contract it.

To that end, West Chester University is planning in-person educational programs for all students, Gainer said, and training for health center workers.

In central Pennsylvania, “most people at Penn State, I don’t think know about this virus,” said Carter Gangl, who chairs Penn State’s student government Justice and Equity Committee, noting that his colleagues LGBTQ people know this. more “because they almost feel like they have to.”

“Without that piece of education” for the broader population, they added, “I think it’s going to be very, very difficult to mitigate the spread.”

Leave a Reply