Why NY colleges should start preparing for monkeypox now

The fall semester is starting soon and colleges will have yet another public health challenge to navigate: monkeypox.

Over the summer, some universities started posting information about the disease online and hosted virtual Q&A sessions to clarify how the virus spreads and dispel misconceptions.

In the current outbreak, monkeypox has mostly spread within networks of men who have sex with men. But that’s a fluke, driven by the virus happening to land in this community first. Anyone can get it through skin-to-skin contact with monkeypox sores, other close contact with someone who is infected, or by touching contaminated clothes or bedding. In New York City, people who identify as straight made up 2.6% of cases as of Thursday — nearly double the percentage reported a week ago.

College students, who often live and socialize in close quarters, may be at higher risk.

“College students may have some elevated risk because of how they socialize and the fact that they may be more likely to be in densely populated classrooms or social events or dormitories or parties,” said Dr. Debra Furr-Holden, dean of NYU’s School of Global Public Health. “And, while 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 the best way to keep college students safe without inciting panic.

“We have a pretty unique opportunity with college students [to spread awareness about monkeypox] because, in a sense, they’re a captive audience,” Furr-Holden said. “They’re getting the university-wide communications and they’re also getting the university protocols and wrapped in the protocols is messaging.”

Furr-Holden and others who spoke to Gothamist said it’s important to make students aware of symptoms and methods of transmission. They’re also encouraging people to stay home if they’re sick.

A health alert posted about monkeypox on the NYU website highlights the symptoms students should look out for, going beyond the signature lesions associated with the disease. It notes that symptoms may include “fever, headache, muscle aches and backache, swollen lymph nodes, chills, exhaustion, and a rash that can look like pimples or blisters,” and says anyone noticing those symptoms should contact the student health center and isolate themselves.

Meanwhile, in a July 29th post about monkeypox, Columbia encouraged students to prevent the spread by asking sexual partners whether they have a rash or other symptoms of monkeypox; avoiding skin-to-skin contact with someone who has monkeypox symptoms; and not sharing bedding, towels, clothing, or utensils with a person who has monkeypox. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that monkeypox patients disinfect surfaces at home.

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