(WFXR) — As colleges and universities gear up for the fall semester, the growing number of monkeypox cases around the Commonwealth has both health officials and students on high alert.
With thousands of students returning to campus within the next two weeks, the deputy director for the Virginia Department of Health’s (VDH) Office of Epidemiology, Dr. Laurie Forlano, says colleges should consider some safety precautions.
According to Forlano, college campuses are places with a lot of people in close proximity, which could be a problem.
“You’re living with people; sharing bathrooms sometimes; going to crowded places, like bars or restaurants or dance clubs,” said Forlano.
Because of these living conditions, the epidemiologist says there is potential for monkeypox to spread.
“If someone is exposed or comes in contact with the lesions or the rash on someone who has monkeypox, that’s how it can be transmitted from one person to another,” Forlano explained.
She explains the virus also could be spread through shared linens, sex, towels, and toothbrushes.
If cases pop up on campus, Forlano advises college leaders to act fast.
“Call that local health department and that local health department can help conduct a public health case investigation, interview the patient, understand who their contacts might have been,” she said.
Prevention and mitigation messages throughout campuses are also important to teach students what they should do if they are sick, as well as the signs and symptoms of monkeypox.
Virginia Tech students weighed in on the conversation, providing mixed responses to WFXR News.
“I’m honestly not that nervous. I mean, I guess we’ll see how it kind of goes, play it by ear,” said Lukas Staudenmayer, a student at Virginia Tech.
Other students say they are waiting on Virginia health officials to give them more details, as well as direct instructions on what to do.
“I’m not informed enough to have much of an opinion on the topic, but I’m also waiting on more information and I’ll probably do more research myself,” said Virginia Tech student Aida Bagheri Hamaneh.
Forlano’s biggest advice to college students is to stay in your dorm or place of residence. If you think you have monkeypox, make sure to inform the campus.
As of Thursday, Aug. 4, the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) has reported a total of 122 probable monkeypox cases — referred to as “orthopoxvirus” — and confirmed monkeypox cases around the Commonwealth, including three from southwest Virginia.