Back to school: Should monkeypox concern students, staff?

With many Los Angeles County students returning to school this week and thousands of young people returning to California universities this month and next, the potential for monkeypox outbreaks in academic and social environments is causing growing concern.

But public health experts continue to assure parents and families that the risk of the rare disease remains low for most people, especially in clothed and mostly remote settings, such as schools.

“I want to emphasize that the risk of monkeypox in the general population remains low,” said Dr. Rita Singhal, chief medical officer for the Los Angeles Department of Public Health. “Brief interactions such as casual conversations or walking by someone with monkeypox are low risk.

“The risk of spread is minimal by attending an event with fully clothed people, traveling with others on an airplane or public transportation, swimming in a pool, hot tub or body of water or going to a public place like a grocery store, restaurant or school,” she says.

There have, however, been at least two confirmed cases of monkeypox in children in LA County, the first of which was reported earlier this month in Long Beach. Officials said the case was linked to another member of the household and the child has since recovered.

Details about the other juvenile case, which Singhal announced on Thursday, including the child’s age and the extent of the illness, were not immediately released.

While cases in children remain rare, monkeypox infections in LA County adults continue to rise, rising by 250 in the past week to nearly 800 confirmed or suspected cases, according to public health department data. . The vast majority of cases have been among men between the ages of 20 and 49 who identify as part of the LGBTQ community, according to county data. These demographics are consistent with the global epidemic of monkeypox, which primarily infects men who have sex with men as well as transgender and non-binary people who have sex with men.

The disease, however, can spread to anyone, regardless of gender or sexual identity, through close, skin-to-skin contact. The virus can also spread through bedding or towels that have touched an infectious skin lesion or smallpox.

Unlike the coronavirus, monkeypox is not thought to be spread through the air and is rarely fatal. In the United States, no one has died from the monkeypox virus, although some people have been hospitalized, including at least 15 people in LA County, health officials said.

“Monkeypox is a public health concern, but we need to be clear that monkeypox is not COVID-19; it’s not as easily transmissible as COVID-19,” said Los Angeles Unified School District medical director Dr. Smita Malhotra.

She said district schools are following county public health department recommendations on monkeypox, which include taking precautions if someone might be sick or exposed and monitoring for symptoms.

“The most important message we send to everyone is that if your child is sick, keep them at home,” Malhotra said. “Get them evaluated by their healthcare provider, and that’s our best prevention against transmission in schools.”

Barbara Ferrer, director of the county’s public health department, said parents should watch for any new rashes, but said “the risk of monkeypox in children is currently extremely low.”

“There are many common rashes in children,” she said. “However, parents should contact their child’s pediatrician or doctor if a new, unexplained rash develops. The child [should] be kept at home and their rash covered until the doctor is consulted.

Ferrer said it’s important to continue practicing good hand hygiene and to help children avoid touching any rashes they may have.

Superintendent LAUSD. Alberto Carvalho said the district is prepared with additional protective gear, including masks and gloves, if needed.

“We continue to emphasize the importance of hand washing and maintaining social distancing, [and] we are not slacking on the availability of hand sanitizers,” Carvalho said. “These are all protective measures that will continue to be in place in our schools.”

On college campuses, including UCLA and USC, officials sent updated advice and information about monkeypox as students prepare to head home, alerting them to the risk of the virus, its symptoms and available resources.

Monkeypox vaccines remain in limited supply and are available to a limited group of people that public health officials have deemed most at risk. UCLA said it was working with the county public health department to vaccinate eligible high-risk populations and provide testing, and was also “developing isolation protocols for students infected with monkeypox.” .

Los Angeles Times

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