Dear AU Community,
As the fall semester approaches, we want to update you on the ongoing nationwide outbreak of monkeypox (MPX). The World Health Organization and the US Department of Health and Human Services have declared monkeypox a public health emergency. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), monkeypox is a rare disease that is primarily spread through close, personal, and/or intimate contact with an individual infected with the monkeypox virus. This includes direct skin-to-skin contact with monkeypox rash or bodily fluids from an infected person. Scientists are researching other possible means of transmission, but monkeypox does not appear to transmit like respiratory conditions such as COVID-19.
Monkeypox symptoms can include fever, headache, swollen lymph nodes, chills, and fatigue. People often also develop a rash that appears like pimples or blisters anywhere on the skin, as well as inside the mouth and on other parts of the body. You can prevent infection by avoiding contact with people diagnosed with monkeypox and wearing a mask if you are in prolonged close contact with someone who has symptoms or a confirmed infection, such as in a health care setting. There is more information about monkeypox on the Student Health Center website.
Currently, the risk of monkeypox transmission on campus is very low and with proper safety precautions, there is no need for elevated concern. Monkeypox is less contagious and less likely to result in severe illness or death than COVID-19. The possibility of becoming infected by interacting with someone with monkeypox, particularly in classroom settings and normal daily activities is low. As of July, CDC reported there had been no transmission during brief interactions/conversations, between people in proximity for a long duration (e.g., passengers on an airplane), or in health care settings.
Since early June, we have been coordinating our response to monkeypox with the DC Department of Health and with other universities in the area. Last week, we identified the first presumptive cases of monkeypox in the AU community. The individuals, who live off campus, are isolating and recovering well, and we are providing support.
While many cases in current US outbreak have been among gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men, monkeypox can be a risk to anyone, regardless of sexual orientation or the sex/gender of sexual partners. Monkeypox is transmitted by skin contact, which can include intimate contact, but it is not a sexually transmitted infection and sexual contact is not required for transmission. It is critical to avoid any stigmatization or discrimination of any groups related to monkeypox.
If you are a student experiencing monkeypox symptoms, contact the Student Health Center at 202-885-3380 for testing information and directions. Faculty and staff with potential symptoms should contact their individual health care provider. Contact tracing for monkeypox is coordinated by the DC Department of Health and CDC recommends that people with monkeypox isolate until they have no more fever or respiratory symptoms. Once those symptoms subside, individuals may leave isolation if they cover any skin lesions and wear a mask.
There is a vaccine that will protect individuals against monkeypox infection, but currently, it is only available through the DC government and there are eligibility requirements. For more information, visit the DC Department of Health website.
We will continue to update you on further developments. The best steps you can take regarding monkeypox, COVID-19, and other health matters is to practice good health hygiene, stay home if you are not feeling well, contact your medical provider if you have symptoms, and wear a mask in appropriate settings. Our ongoing community of care will support the well-being of the AU community.
David S. Reitman, M.D.
Medical Director, American University Student Health Center