by Alexandra Levy, staff writer

SEPTEMBER 2022 — Monkeypox infection rates are rising, according to the Ohio Department of Health, and many Bio-Med students wonder how the virus will impact their educational experience during the school year.

The Center of Disease Control (CDC) explained that monkeypox is currently known to spread through direct skin-to-skin contact with an infected person or their bodily fluids, touching surfaces recently touched by someone with monkeypox, contact with respiratory secretions from an infected person, sexual intercourse, and from an infected animal’s scratch, bite, or product, such as meat or milk.

“I know it’s a rash that started mainly on rats and monkeys in Africa, but I also know it spread to multiple different countries. I heard a bit about it spreading through populations with men in the LGBTQ community, but I don’t recall if that was a misconception,” said Katherine Lennox, a junior at Bio-Med Science Academy.

 A “sanitation station” pictured in Bio-Med 11th Grade Jenna Bates’s room. The station is a table with supplies to wipe and disinfect desks after each core, the supplies include: paper towels, disinfectant wipes, and disinfectant spray. Photo by Alex Levy, staff writer.

There is currently a misconception that monkeypox only spreads among men in the LGBTQ+ community, and while the virus can affect any person, it is currently most prevalent in the gay male population, according to the World Health Organization.

“Monkeypox can be spread between any people with prolonged skin-to-skin contact,” said NPR’s Ari Shapiro, “but the reality is, this disease is not affecting everyone equally. According to the latest data from the World Health Organization, 99% of the people diagnosed with monkeypox are men and 98% of those who specify their sexual orientation are men who have sex with men.”

Many high schoolers feel that the virus wouldn’t have a significant impact on the student body, because there is less of a chance for sexual transmission.

Lennox doesn’t think monkeypox would affect students within the high school age range, saying, “I don’t think it’s a major concern in our age group, and I don’t think that there’s a lot of ability for it to spread through direct contact.”

Kay Conley, the Director Of Administration and Support Services at the Stark County Health Department, explained that, because of how monkeypox spreads, it is unlikely to have outbreaks in schools.

“Monkeypox is not easily spread like COVID was. It’s transmitted from person to person through close contact,” said Conley. “For the general population, the risk of getting monkeypox is low, including schools, early care and education programs, and other settings serving children and adolescents.”

The recommended prevention plan from the CDC includes sanitizing surfaces and promoting behavioral changes, including abstinence and contact tracing of sexual partners in areas with a high case rate, especially for men in the LGBTQ+ community. Bio-Med follows the guidelines by encouraging students and teachers to wipe their desks with disinfectant at the end of each class.

The current monkeypox vaccine, the JYNNEOS vaccine, is pictured in a San Francisco pharmacy. The vaccine is currently in a shortage due to high demand and the CDC recommends that high risk groups (such as men in the LBGTQ+ community) are given the vaccine first. The vaccine is given in two separate doses and it takes two weeks after the second dose for the vaccine to be fully effective. Photo obtained from the San Francisco Chronicle.

Another prevention method for monkeypox is the JYNNEOS vaccine, also known as the smallpox vaccine. Doses of this vaccine are currently being distributed to locations with the highest number of cases, such as New York and California.

Conley commented on how people can prevent monkeypox in their community.

“In Stark County at this time, cases are very low. Prevention measures are typical of all communicable diseases: Avoid close skin-to-skin contact with people who have a rash that looks like monkeypox; Avoid contact with objects and materials that a person with monkeypox has used (Do not share eating utensils/cups or handle bedding/towels clothing of a person with monkeypox.); and wash your hands often,” they said. “Also due to the data, there is a recommendation to reduce or avoid behaviors that increase risk of monkeypox exposure such as a temporary break from activities until two weeks after your second dose of vaccine. Some of these high risk activities can include having multiple sexual partners and attending private or public sex parties or events. Using condoms may offer some protection, but they alone may not prevent all exposures.”

Doctor Tara Smith is a professor of epidemiology at Kent State University’s college of public health. Public health is the science of preventing diseases in a community instead of in individual patients.

Smith explained how public health organizations are attempting to make it easier for the public to find the most current, reliable information on monkeypox.

Smith reflected on the COVID-19 pandemic, saying, “I’ve talked about plagues and pandemics for a long time and never wanted to see one first hand. At the beginning of 2020, I tried to see what the pandemic plan was for Kent State and Ohio. I ended up working with Kent for virus-response protocols. I also ended up working with public health agencies and did a lot of communication about the pandemic. I was a resource for the history of plagues, the history of coronaviruses, and updating policies throughout the pandemic. I was on the front lines in administrative response and communication.”

Smith also discussed how monkeypox may look compared to COVID.

“I hope it will be less prevalent,” said Smith. “We are already seeing in New York City that cases of monkeypox are slowing and declining due to the response of vaccination campaigns. And so far, we have only seen one large outbreak of monkeypox. We’re also not starting at ground zero like we were with COVID-19; Nigeria already has experience with monkeypox, and there is already a vaccine. I also have hopes that public health officials are getting knowledge to the public on the spread of monkeypox.”

Many students worry about whether monkeypox will lead to another pandemic outbreak, like the COVID-19 outbreak in 2020.

Lennox attended school virtually during the 2020–2021 school year to protect an immunocompromised member of her household. She was unsure if she would do so in the event of a large monkeypox outbreak.

“It depends on if there is a rise in the number of monkeypox-related fatalities, and it depends on how Ohio and Portage handle it and on the information at the time,” she said.

Rootstown High School sophomore Kyo Williams also attended school virtually during the 2020–2021 school year due to an immunocompromised family member.

Lacy Schlute’s papers with information on monkeypox are pictured. Symptoms of monkeypox include fever, chills, swollen lymph glands, exhaustion, headache, respiratory symptoms, and a pus-filled rash. Photo by Alex Levy, staff writer.

“I know what monkeypox is, and I am fairly familiar with the side effects,” stated Williams. “If an outbreak were to happen, I personally would go into lockdown again.”

Williams explained that with changing guidelines for the virus, they feel the best thing to do is to try to isolate themself.

Williams stated, “As a person with a guardian who is at a higher risk of contracting viruses, I just want to take whatever extra precautions I can in an academic setting.”

Bio-Med freshman English teacher Brian McDonald shared this feeling. McDonald was also quarantined for a portion of the 2020–2021 school year to protect an immunocompromised member of his family. He observed that many of his students chose to remain virtual for the school year after the initial COVID-19 quarantine.

“It was a tricky year, because everyone was virtual for the first portion of the year. For my family, our advice was to remain isolated until we were all fully vaccinated,” he said.

 An infographic with an overview of monkeypox including the definition, symptoms, and details of what can be done to reduce the spread of monkeypox. Photo obtained from The Illinois Department of Public Health.

Many reflected on the COVID-19 protocols after initial quarantine and fear that those methods may be inadequate at preventing all viruses, including monkeypox.

Wiliams said, “While being online was a huge preventative measure for myself, in the case of a future virus, I would still ask more of my school when it comes to contact-tracing and supporting students in that situation.”

McDonald agreed, saying, “I wasn’t really confident in all of the precautions we took as a school. I know people were trying to do their best, but as a teacher, you are in close contact with a lot of students throughout the day, and not having a vaccine readily available was problematic when there were outbreaks.”

Elissa Fusco, the Biomedical Engineering teacher at Bio-Med, felt as though the school was more successful than most schools in virus prevention, but that at some point, the virus was nearly impossible to prevent.

“I’m lucky that my room is big, so I had enough space for social distancing and the tables in my room are already three feet apart,” said Fusco. “In terms of all viruses, Bio-Med helped to provide teachers with resources. I’m grateful we had masks offered and provided for us.”

Fusco also explained how she is personally adapting to the new guidelines on monkeypox while being in a health-oriented class.

“I think that it is really important to make sure that you are using straightforward, reliable, and current information,” expressed Fusco. “And I try to tell my students that in class and teach them about where they are finding their information.”

Lacy Schulte is the Clinic Coordinator of School Health at Bio-Med. Schulte helps to advise virus protocols in Bio-Med. She also works at Akron Children’s Hospital.  

Schulte explained how she keeps the guidelines up-to-date with the changing information on monkeypox and COVID-19.

“We do a lot of evidence-based research, and a lot of the administration team at Akron Children’s Hospital will do the research and relay the information to us. Trying to keep up to date on all new treatments and prevention plans,” she said.

Schulte expressed her current understanding of the monkeypox outbreak as a healthcare employee.

“So far, it doesn’t sound like the virus is likely to put someone in a critical condition, and so far it sounds pretty treatable. I don’t know too much about the treatment regimen, but it doesn’t seem like the scope of the virus would be anything like COVID was,” said Schulte.

Smith concluded, “I wrote an article on monkeypox early on in order to try and close some of the miscommunications about the virus. I think we need to keep emphasizing that the information we have is current from when it was presented. People need to realize that information evolves with viruses. What was once true about vaccines and masks has changed, and sometimes faulty information that’s presented was actually correct for the time. There is change involved in pandemics —flexibility, unknowns, and questions that are being answered and better understood all of the time.”

To find more information on monkeypox and other viruses, the CDC’s website can be found here.

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