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Schools should be proactive to prevent monkeypox spread on campus, say experts

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Experts say Canadian universities and colleges should be proactive to prevent the spread of monkeypox among students, warning that a lack of education could give the virus a chance to gain a foothold on campus.

Schools should raise awareness of the dangers of monkeypox, said Jason Kendracchuk, a virologist at the University of Manitoba, as students prepare to come together to start a new semester in jam-packed festivities where the virus is vulnerable to spread.

“We are transitioning to a time of year where there will be children, especially those who are of a more sexually active age… and we do various social events that may put them in situations where there is a high risk,” said Kindrachuk, associate professor of medical microbiology and pathology. infectious.

Kendracchuk noted that so far, monkeypox cases in Canada have been concentrated among men who have reported intimate sexual contact with other men, but the risk of infection is not limited to any group or location.

The virus spreads through skin contact, often with an infected person’s wounds, clothing, or bed linen. Symptoms can include rash, swollen lymph nodes, and fever, and usually last two to four weeks.

While a handful of US universities have reported monkeypox infections, there are no indications that the virus is currently circulating in Canadian universities.

But Kindrachuk said that could change as the back-to-school season of crowded social events, cramped bedrooms and high rates of sexual activity invite more opportunities for potential exposure.

“This is a virus … it will take advantage of whatever cracks it has available to it, so if it is able to transmit to other populations, it will,” he said. “We are in a position where we want to try to keep this as best we can and as quickly as possible.”

Universities in the two provinces where the most cases have been detected in Canada said they are working with health authorities to manage the risks of the disease.

In Ontario, the University of Toronto said no cases of monkeypox have been reported on its campus. The school has published an online guide on how to access services that assist with testing, isolation protocols, contact tracing, and accommodations at school or work.

Toronto Metropolitan University said it is developing protocols to deal with potential infections on campus, particularly in dormitories.

In London, Western University said it plans to launch an awareness campaign soon, including a dedicated web page.

Meanwhile, in Quebec, the health authority representing south central Montreal said it had “no evidence” of continued transmission of monkeypox in post-secondary settings, but noted that there has been less traffic on campus since the virus began in Distribution in Canada in late spring. .

Spokesman Jean-Nicolas Obe said in an email Thursday that the authority is working with schools and health services to share the latest information on monkeypox.

He said students who meet Quebec’s standards for vaccination are encouraged to get their vaccinations as soon as possible. There are no plans to set up on-campus vaccine clinics, but that could change if outbreaks are reported in the coming weeks.

Concordia University said it is looking to reconvene a group that addresses concerns about infectious diseases, including monkeypox, with a focus on campus housing.

McGill University said its student wellness center offers information and resources about a range of health concerns, including monkeypox.

Devan Nambiar of the Gay Sexual Health Alliance in Toronto said schools should provide clear and harmless information about monkeypox as part of student guidance.

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With the first day of classes fast approaching, Nambiar urged departments to put in place protocols before students descend on campus rather than risk giving the virus a head start on the school year.

“When there’s misinformation and confusion, it’s not really good for anyone’s mental, emotional or physical health,” Nambiar said.

“The sooner these discussions take place internally across all university and college campuses, the better for everyone…to focus on studies and enjoy life on campus.”

Nambiar said the COVID-19 crisis could serve as a model for infection control on campus.

But a student sexual health advocate said the partial post-secondary response to COVID-19 should also be a lesson in how mixed messages can sow confusion and anxiety.

“We have traditionally looked to universities for a lot of guidance when it comes to COVID,” said Felicia Gisundi, executive director of the Sex and Self Foundation, a nonprofit that promotes sex education for young Canadians. Unfortunately, there was not much consensus.

Gisondi is concerned that the void of accessible, scientifically supported information about monkeypox could lead to unfounded anxiety about going to classes for some, even though the evidence suggests that the virus does not spread through casual contact.

“If the university doesn’t act quickly, there will be a lot of fear associated with monkeypox, on top of the fear many students have about returning to a post-COVID campus.”

Monkeypox, which comes from the same family of viruses that cause smallpox, was endemic to parts of central and western Africa for decades and wasn’t known to cause major outbreaks outside the continent until May.

On Wednesday, federal officials reported that there were 1,206 confirmed cases of monkeypox in Canada, including 583 in Ontario and 471 in Quebec.

This report was first published by The Canadian Press on August 25, 2022.

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