How Students, Colleges Can Combat Spread of Monkeypox This Fall

Dr. Alexandra Yonts spoke with LX about ways students and school can be prepared for monkeypox

The current population of college students is all too familiar with global health emergencies.

Upperclassmen will be entering their third full year of college since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Freshmen and sophomores, meanwhile, have endured online learning, canceled proms and virtual graduations in high school before reaching the university level.

Monkeypox is a new viral disease that students will need to be vigilant of entering the 2022 fall semester. There are 13,517 confirmed cases in the U.S. as of Aug. 17, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A handful of collegiate institutions have already reported cases on their campuses as early as June.

Between monkeypox and COVID-19, students need to remain mindful of infectious spreading. However, campus features like dorm rooms, shared bathrooms and cafeterias present a challenge when it comes to containment.

So, how can students who share rooms limit the spread of monkeypox?

“That will be something that students should be aware of, something they should try to minimize,” Dr. Alexandra Yonts, an infectious diseases specialist at Children’s National Hospital, said in an interview with LX News regarding the perils of close contact in a college setting. “If they themselves are sick or have lesions, they need to be honest with the people around them and avoid exposing them to those lesions without covering them up.”

Contracting monkeypox could halt a student’s college experience. The lesions will not only cause physical pain, but they will force the student into isolation. Though students have become experienced with learning online, monkeypox is capable of keeping someone from their peers for up to 21 days, according to Yonts.

“It really has the potential to keep people isolated, keep people away from their in-person activities,” she said. “Thankfully, the infrastructure is there for lots of virtual learning, but that’s still a major impact to the college and school experience for anyone that might become infected.”

Along with mindfulness from students, the colleges themselves have a role to play in containing monkeypox. Yonts recommended a collaborative effort between universities and organizations around them as the best way to keep people safe.

“I know that some institutions have already started putting together a plan for response in terms of making vaccination more easily available. I think between having a partnership with local public health institutions to do so — with vaccinations available for their students — having knowledgeable healthcare providers on campus and having testing available readily for anyone that has symptoms and may have been exposed is the best way to stay on top of this,” she said.

U.S. officials declared monkeypox a public health emergency on Aug. 4. The announcement facilitated more access to emergency funds and allowed health agencies to gather more data on cases and vaccinations. 

Officials soon authorized a plan to increase the number of available Jynneos vaccinations. Under the plan, people receive one-fifth of the usual dosage. Officials attributed research that says the smaller dose is just as effective.

The approach has doubled the number of doses. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which had previously expected to allow 221,000 doses on Monday, instead released 442,000 by stretching the supply.

While the vaccine is increasingly available, Yonts cautions that there is still a long way to go for students and the general public in the fight against monkeypox.

“I think it is going to continue to spread,” she said. “I do think our response has been very quick given that we have tools at our disposal, although it’s never fast enough for those going through it.”