This story was originally published by Source New Mexico.
Students across the state are returning to college campuses as school kicks off just a month after monkey pox was reported in New Mexico. But the larger institutions in Albuquerque and Las Cruces have not put in place special measures for the national public health emergency.
Instead, university officials place a great deal of responsibility on students to be aware of potential health risks.
The first case of monkeypox was found in New Mexico on July 11. About a month and a half later, that number has resurrected to 19 cases. There are more than 15,900 confirmed cases in the United States and no deaths so far.
The University of New Mexico and New Mexico State University have no specific monkeypox precautionary measures in place.
Universities in Eastern and Western New Mexico have isolated quarantine spaces available on campus that could be used for monkeypox if needed.
The lack of action by UNM and NMSU, the largest universities in the state, reflects the lack of state and national standards to follow for the health crisis.
Instead, most colleges simply share information about monkeypox with students, staff, and faculty. UNM spokesperson Cinnamon Blair said the university’s goal was to address false rumors about the spread of monkeypox in the public.
UNM also encourages students to maintain rigorous health standards, Blair said. Betsy Miller, acting vice president of student affairs and enrollment management at Western New Mexico University, responded similarly.
“The welfare of WNMU students is our top priority, and we believe it is the responsibility of each (student) to maintain their own health and do their part to protect their classmates, colleagues, his teammates and peers,” Miller said. by email.
NMSU Vice Chancellor’s Special Assistant Jon Webster said monkey pox is not a problem at the moment. Blair agreed and said UNM would consult with health partners to put in place safety measures later if it became necessary. The two said the problem could become more of a concern if cases increase.
“We’ve worked our way through two whole years of COVID,” Webster said. “I have no doubt we could do it if we needed to with this same virus.”
Dr. Meghan Brett, an epidemiologist at UNM Hospital, said this sensitization is a good response so that communities are alert to symptoms such as rash or fever.
But some other officials believe more needs to be done. States Newsroom spoke with Georges C. Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, who said colleges should put emergency measures in place and assume they will have cases of monkeypox.
“There’s nothing saying they’re going to have big outbreaks, but all schools should assume they’re going to have someone on their campus who has monkeypox,” Benjamin said. “The epidemic is simply too widespread not to be.”
Yet some universities are still struggling to deal with a single public health emergency. Jeff Long is the vice president of student affairs at Eastern New Mexico University and said the COVID-19 pandemic was at the forefront of their concerns.
“Right now we are still dealing with COVID as students and faculty return to campus,” he said.
But he said the university would switch to online classes if necessary. After COVID, many universities boosted their online presence and still have virtual options available to students.
contract the virus
Many students travel during summer vacation, and since New Mexico has the 15th-lowest case count in the nation, students may return from states with higher cases of monkeypox.
But monkeypox doesn’t spread as easily as COVID, Brett said, and it’s most likely through skin-to-skin contact.
For this reason, Brett said the trip itself may not increase the risk of contracting monkeypox, but rather the activities performed while on the trip. The virus can be contracted during unprotected sexual activity, she said. It can be prevalent on college campuses, which is why she said it needed to be discussed.
“That’s where people need to keep talking about what needs to be in place around safer sex practices,” Brett said.
She said communicating with partners about rashes or exposures was meaningful, as well as checking for personal rashes. “It’s important whether it’s monkeypox, syphilis, gonorrhea or other types of sexually transmitted infections,” she said.
Monkeypox can also spread by sharing objects, fabrics or surfaces with someone infected with the virus. Dorms are one of the high-risk environments that the CDC lists where transmission may be more likely after someone has contracted the virus. The center recommends testing residents who may have monkeypox, providing them with masks to wear and disinfecting areas.
Brett said contracting the virus through other commonly shared items on campuses, such as offices or equipment, is less likely.
UNM and NMSU recommend that students contact their health centers if they believe they have been exposed, although vaccines are only available through the NM Department of Health.
The quarantine for monkeypox is longer than COVID. The CDC said people should stay in isolation while symptoms persist, which typically lasts two to four weeks — an extended period that could cause problems for students missing class and work.
The majority of monkeypox cases are seen in men who have sex with men, according to the CDC. This has caused issues of stigmatizing communities like gay men amid the crisis, although Brett said public health workers are trying to avoid this.
“When we’re in health care, we try to do our best, right, to treat everyone who comes to see us fairly and equitably and hopefully without stigma,” Brett said.
She said the public should try to personalize how they think about who might get the disease to avoid stigma. “The people who get monkeypox could be your brother or your son or someone else you love,” Brett said.
Blair said there are mental health resources available at UNM for those with anxiety about this issue and wants everyone to feel safe getting medical help if needed. She added that the campus does not create issues that would single out a community so that everyone is supported.
“We want people to feel comfortable talking about it, going to see a health care provider, not feeling bad about it,” Blair said. “It comes right after all the COVID stuff. It’s just one more thing.