College students have already been through the highs and lows of one outbreak on campus: COVID-19. But will they be dealing with another — the monkeypox outbreak 2022 — this fall? 

With university and college students preparing for the fall semester, five campuses already confirmed monkeypox cases this summer: Georgetown University and George Washington University in Washington, D.C.; the University of Texas at Austin; and Bucknell and West Chester universities in Pennsylvania. 

As of September 2022, more than 53,027 monkeypox virus infections and 15 deaths have been reported in 100 countries. The World Health Organization declared the monkeypox viral outbreak a public health emergency of international concern in June. In August, the United States also declared monkeypox a public health emergency. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is tracking the outbreak across several countries that don’t normally report monkeypox, including the United States.  

If your student is nervous about monkeypox, Global Rescue medical experts provide health and safety advice — and recommend a travel protection membership for college students away from home. 

What is monkeypox? 

Monkeypox is a rare disease caused by infection with the monkeypox virus. It was first described in humans in 1970 in the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire). It was rarely spread outside of Africa, but “has circulated for decades in regions where it has traditionally been endemic,” according to The New England Journal of Medicine. 

What are monkeypox symptoms?

According to the CDC, symptoms of monkeypox can include: 

  • Fever 
  • Headache 
  • Muscle aches and backache 
  • Swollen lymph nodes 
  • Chills 
  • Respiratory symptoms (sore throat, nasal congestion or cough) 
  • A rash that can look like pimples or blisters that appears on the face, inside the mouth and on other parts of the body, like the hands, feet, chest, genitals or anus. 
  • The rash goes through different stages over two to four weeks before healing completely. 
  • Sometimes, people get a rash first, followed by other symptoms. Others only experience a rash. 

How does monkeypox spread? 

Monkeypox doesn’t spread through the air, like COVID-19. It spreads through close, personal, often skin-to-skin contact.   

“Sexual activity still appears to be the primary driver of the outbreak, although it still isn’t clear whether it is tied to skin-to-skin contact or if bodily fluids are playing a major role,” said Michael Lovely, operations supervisor at Global Rescue. 

The CDC notes monkeypox can also spread by touching objects, fabrics (clothing, bedding or towels) and surfaces used by someone with monkeypox — adding to college campus concerns. It’s not unusual for college students to hang out in each other’s dorm rooms, which might include sitting on someone else’s bedsheets, comforters or pillows, or use a roommate’s towel out of convenience. Lovely notes this is “not the major transmission route and is less frequent than the predominate mode of sexual transmission.” 

It does have college campuses concerned.  

“Some of our students aren’t the best housekeepers, how often are bedsheets changed and things like that,” said Tanya Tatum, director of student health services at Florida A&M. “So there is some concern.” 

Is monkeypox deadly? 

More than 99% of people who get infected with the type of monkeypox virus identified in this outbreak — the West African type — are likely to survive. However, people with weakened immune systems, children under 8 years of age and people with a history of eczema may be more likely to get seriously ill or die. The Congo Basin type of monkeypox virus has a fatality rate around 10%, according to the CDC. 

What should college students do to prevent infection? 

The CDC recommends vaccination for people who have been exposed to monkeypox or who are at higher risk of being exposed to the disease.  It has been reported that the majority of cases have occurred among homosexual males engaged in non-monogamous sexual activity. 

In the United States, city officials have various recommendations for event safety. In Texas, Austin Public Health (APH) recommendations include avoiding skin-to-skin contact with strangers and limiting close contact (sharing items like drinks and blankets) to people you know.” 

masked young person receiving a vaccine in a doctors office

Is it safe to send kids back to school?

“Children who are at risk of getting severely ill or are living with people with weakened immune systems should consider delaying going back to school unless strict measures are implemented at the school to prevent widespread infection,” Lovely said. “Ultimately, this is a decision for the parents and they will need to consider all factors prior to sending their kids to school. If they have concerns, they should speak to their doctor and school officials.” 

What can parents do to help?  

“Parents can help by monitoring the number of cases within the community and making sure they are prepared and know who to contact should one of their family members manifests symptoms of monkeypox,” Lovely said. “Prevention is still better than a cure so it’s better to avoid situations which may lead to unnecessary skin-to-skin contact with random people — such as in crowded public transportation — and it’s always important to wash hands very often.” 

How can Global Rescue help? 

Global Rescue experts can answer monkeypox-related questions, and provide immediate information regarding nearby monkeypox-prepared health care facilities.  

“We’ve already assisted a few inquiries from members looking for information regarding the monkeypox vaccine and its availability in their destination country,” Lovely said. 

Whether it’s monkeypox or any other infectious disease, Global Rescue will provide rescue and emergency transport services for students to their home hospital of choice in the event they are hospitalized or in need of hospitalization.  

“When it comes to managing patients infected with monkeypox, Global Rescue does not make any distinctions between monkeypox and other infectious diseases regarding our services. If members have questions related to monkeypox or become ill from the virus while away from home, our services still apply. This always has been the case, including for COVID-19,” said Dan Richards, CEO of Global Rescue.     

Students may opt for a TotalCare membership, which offers the same services as travel memberships — plus access to urgent care telemedicine services that students can utilize anywhere. Medical requests are answered by an in-house Global Rescue operations team member and then members are placed into a live video conference with a board certified, licensed doctor from Elite Medical Group (EMG). 

“TotalCare brings the doctor’s office to your dorm room, providing real-time medical access whenever and wherever you need it,” said David Koo, senior manager of operations at Global Rescue.