SCDHEC urging college campuses to prepare for monkeypox as school gets ready to start

Cases have been popping up all over the country, including right here in the Carolinas.
Published: Aug. 3, 2022 at 6:41 PM EDT
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ROCK HILL, S.C. (WBTV) - Cases of monkeypox (MPX) are popping up all over the country, including here in the Carolinas. Added concern with college students gearing up to go back to school has some wondering whether it could start more outbreaks.

A case has already been confirmed at two college campuses: one in DC and one in Texas. The lead epidemiologist in the state stressed that monkeypox is spread through close prolonged skin-to-skin contact with a person who has active lesions. Most of the current cases in the state are among men who have sex with men, but the concern for spread does not stop there.

This time last year, Winthrop University’s campus was bustling with hundreds of students moving in, getting ready for the new school year.

”Everything is really exciting. I really love Winthrop,” says Aurelia Mouberi, a rising sophomore.

The campus sits much quieter now. Only a few students like Aurelia Mouberi walk the near-empty grounds. In a few weeks this might look different, no doubt the excitement for the new year is still palpable.

”Maybe one of my challenges this year is trying to be over my comfort zone,” she says.

Mouberi says she is aware, however, of monkeypox, and hopes it does not spread through the state while she’s living in close quarters.

”Yeah it makes me a little bit nervous because I hope that it’s not going to bother the school year and that we will be able to go to class the whole year,” she says.

South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control’s lead epidemiologist Dr. Linda Bell says not to worry too much.

”Dormitory living, in general, is not meant to be a risk of transmission,” explains Bell.

However, she says that does not mean there is no room for concern. She says students can carry on regular group activities like lectures and social events. Bell says the tight social and sometimes sexual networks of college campuses could lead to outbreaks. And roommates present another potential problem.

”Of course, household contacts are at an increased risk if they’re living with someone who has monkeypox,” she says.

DHEC’s communication with college campuses has so far centered on getting the facts straight—what to look for, the concerns and health centers reaching those higher risk groups like the LBGTQ community.

”We do need to do a lot to make sure that our college students and our college communities are well-informed about the potential risk and how to avoid those,” she says.

Bell says DHEC reached out to health centers on the college campuses and encouraged them to work with organizations that cater to high-risk groups to get information out there.

WBTV asked local colleges--Winthrop University, Clinton College and University of South Carolina at Lancaster--what the plan of action is about monkeypox. Only Winthrop has students living on campus. Winthrop response says:

The Center for Student Wellness is reviewing information received from SC DHEC before drafting campus communications. The office also is awaiting information from the American College Health Association to incorporate into campus communications. Students, faculty and staff will receive information soon.

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