Monkeypox is causing concern on campuses across the country, including here at the University of Utah. Why? Because the virus, which is a relative of smallpox, can be passed through skin-to-skin contact, as well as the sharing of personal items, and, less frequently, through airborne exposure. In a community where we live together, play together and learn together, those points of contact are common. But don’t stress, there are actions you can take to stop the spread.
The majority of monkeypox cases reported in the United States have been transmitted through sexual contact. However, it’s not necessarily about the sex, it’s about the prolonged skin-to-skin contact. There are some concerns that other activities that involve close physical contact, like contact sports, performing arts, parties and raves, could also lead to transmission.
You can reduce your risk by reducing your skin-to-skin contact. Reduce the number of your sexual partners. If you are in a situation where you will be in close physical contact with others, it’s a good idea to cover as much of your skin as possible.
Don’t share personal items
The monkeypox virus can live on surfaces including on fabrics. This leads to risks in shared living spaces, like residential housing. Reduce those risks by not sharing personal items. Don’t use the same cups or utensils unless they have been cleaned and sanitized between users. Don’t share towels, bedding or clothing.
If you come in contact with a surface that is unfamiliar to you, then wipe it down before you touch it. This is especially important in areas like gyms or bathrooms.
Wash your hands
Good hygiene goes a long way in preventing the spread of any virus, including monkeypox. Wash your hands often, especially when around others, before you eat and after using the bathroom. Also, avoid touching your face as much as possible when in public or before you have cleaned your hands.
Wear a mask
Airborne transmission of monkeypox is very rare. You are unlikely to contract it sitting in class with someone who has it or talking to them for a short period of time. However, we all know from COVID-19 that masks can protect you from the respiratory transmission of viruses. If you are concerned about monkeypox, then a mask is a good form of protection.
Just like with COVID-19, if you think you have monkeypox, then it is best to confirm it with a test. However, it is not recommended you go into a clinic first if you suspect you have the virus. Instead, you should call your health care provider to discuss your symptoms and to ask if a visit to a medical professional is necessary. If it is determined that you have the virus, you will be asked to isolate yourself until your symptoms are gone and the lesions are healed, which could be up to four weeks.
Students who have monkeypox should follow public health guidance for isolation until they have fully healed. Bathrooms, towels, sheets, blankets and clothing should not be shared during the recovery period. Because of the length of the recommended isolation period, students living in on-campus housing must isolate off campus until they have healed. Housing and residential education will work with students as needed for accommodations. Students who live off campus and contract monkeypox should also plan to isolate for the recommended duration.
Students who contract monkeypox are not permitted to attend class or other activities in person until they have fully healed, according to public health guidance. Depending on the timing of infection and individual academic circumstances, a medical leave of absence may be appropriate. In some cases, students may be able to continue their studies while isolated at home, depending on their program and current courses.
Monkeypox is not as contagious as COVID-19, so the risk of catching it is not as high. It is unlikely you will get it sitting on a toilet seat or talking to a person with the virus. However, it is better to be safe than sorry. University of Utah Health has several excellent resources on the virus and will keep our community informed of the progression of the virus.
Take the necessary precautions and be aware of the possible risks. Together we can limit the spread.