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Back to school season: Should parents be worried about monkeypox?

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Monkeypox cases across the world are steadily increasing, with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recording a total of 19,962 confirmed cases as of Sept. 2, and 172 of those confirmed cases belong to Indiana.

Meanwhile, most students have already completed their first week of school. Parents, teachers and students all have questions. Can monkeypox be spread while sitting in a classroom or walking through the hallways? Could it be transmitted through touching other students or sharing food? Is it tougher to combat than COVID-19? How cautious should college students be?

Monkeypox, which isn’t a new virus, does not spread the same way COVID-19 does. Monkeypox is most often spread through direct skin-to-skin contact with a person who has the virus, as well as contact with contaminated materials such as clothing or surfaces that have been used by someone with monkeypox.

Dr. Virginia Caine, director of the Marion County Public Health Department, has all the necessary answers for curious parents or caregivers wanting to know more about monkeypox and maintaining their child’s safety.

Recorder: How can monkeypox be spread?

Dr. Virginia Caine: So, I think the thing is that you have mutated strands related to the COVID cases, but because of the primary route of transmission with COVID is to the respiratory route. And because the strands have mutated, they become more contagious. They have developed that ability now over time in order to be able to affect more people. We’re having thousands and hundreds of cases of COVID compared to what you’re seeing now with the monkeypox, which appears to act more like with the infection like we saw with the HIV infection, where is primarily has been transmitted through people having intimate sexual contact.

Recorder: Are there any protocols for monkeypox in place?

Dr. Virginia Caine: I’m sure that schools have changed and adapted a lot of their COVID protocols to monkeypox protocols.

Recorder: Should parents have to worry about monkeypox at all with their kids in the schools?

Dr. Virginia Caine: They should be more worried about COVID than they should be about monkeypox because of the lower rate of transmission related to monkeypox.

Now, it’s not to say that they can’t be exposed because what happens is that a person who has monkeypox is a person that may have blisters, lesions or a rash. They can contaminate with their hands and touch different objects surrounding them, contaminating the objects.

The person who’s infected with monkeypox does have the ability of infecting others through bedding sheets or towels that they may share with you, and there does appear to be some transmission in the air. But it is not as contagious.

Recorder: Could monkeypox be spread by sharing food or drinks?

Dr. Virginia Caine: Not so much by sharing food or drinks.

Recorder: What precautions should college students take to ensure safety on their campuses?

Dr. Virginia Caine: I think college students have to be careful. We know they are 18- to 24-year-olds. A lot of times a significant number of them may have no symptoms but are contagious. They can spread that infection to their loved ones, someone who may be immunocompromised, so you wouldn’t want to spread that infection to your grandparents or parents. Especially if they have an underlying chronic condition, such as high blood pressure, asthma, or renal failure.

You may be healthy, or you may feel great. Not a problem. I’m less worried about you but I am worried about spreading the infection to others like your peers. So, I need you to get vaccinated and our African American males are the lowest in terms of getting vaccinated compared to any other racial group.

Recorder: What’s the overall view you want parents, teachers and students to focus on when considering the risk of monkeypox?

Dr. Virginia Caine: That the transmission from the monkeypox is low. But if you should have a child that has a rash, especially a rash that has blister-like lesions, we ask that you cover those lesions up with a gauze. That lesion may itch, and they’re scratching the lesion with their hands or fingers and may scrub their eyes where they can transmit that infection from their rash to their eyes. Try to get some gauze coverage.

For more information and updates visit the Indiana Department of Health website, www.in.gov and enter monkeypox in the search window.

Contact staff writer Levi Jackson at 317-504-8626 or email levij@indyrecorder.com. Follow him on Twitter @posterboylevi.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to include the full context of Dr. Virginia Caine’s answer about how monkeypox can spread.

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