In the age of the coronavirus, there are seemingly a million germ and virial threats awaiting America’s school kids as they return to class this fall. Thankfully, the nation’s health experts don’t believe the dangerous new Monkeypox virus will be one of them.
The U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention classifies monkeypox as a low-risk threat to schools, which has set off a huge collective sigh of relief in schools from coast to coast. The specter of yet another virus is the last thing school nurses, administrators and teachers need as they work to fend off BA.5, the latest wildly contagious subvariant of the coronavirus.
“There’s a lot of fear, a lot of concern,” Lake Forest College Dean of Students Andrea Conner told National Public Radio. “So we want to educate people.”
The CDC reports monkeypox (which was first discovered in 1958, though the source of the disease remains unknown) is most often associated with a rash that can appear anywhere on the body including the face, feet, hands, genitals and inside the mouth. Symptoms can also include fever, headaches and muscle aches.
The CDC calls the monkeypox threat to children and adolescents low. Unlike COVID, monkeypox requires direct skin-to-skin contact or direct exposure to contaminated objects, fabrics or surfaces to spread.
“(Transmission) is mainly through prolonged skin-to-skin contact,” Dr. William Schaffner, a Vanderbilt University infectious disease expert, told People Magazine. “There could also be respiratory transmission through a long conversation with someone, but you’d have to be very close.”
Per the CDC, even close contact sports like wrestling or group activities in the gym and on the playground present minimum risk for monkeypox transmission.
Still, monkeypox’s spread across the U.S. reminds us of the essential importance of strong hand hygiene, washing with soap and water regularly, and disinfecting mats, gym equipment and other high-touch areas in schools to prevent the spread of all transmissible viruses.
Over 10,000 confirmed cases had been recorded as of Sept. 1, but health officials warn that number could be substantially higher due to limited available testing.
The White House recently declared monkeypox a public health emergency. Like the coronavirus in the early days of the pandemic, officials warn we still have much to learn of it.
The hopeful news on monkeypox: very few cases are fatal or life-threatening and a vaccine is at the ready. Given within four days of exposure, it can prevent and limit the development of the disease. The majority of infections resolve themselves within a few week, but monkeypox requires a longer isolation period than coronavirus.
Just like any health threat, schools and universities need to have a sound detailed plan to prevent monkeypox from spreading throughout their buildings and campuses.
“Colleges and universities (especially) need to be proactive,” Amesh Adalja, MD, an infectious disease specialist and senior scholar with the John Hopkins Center for Health Security, told Web MD, “what they need to have in place is a plan so they’re not doing it on the fly.”