What school leaders need to know

Although federal health officials have declared monkeypox a public health emergency, there is no need to panic among facility and district leaders, epidemiologists tell Education Week Friday.

The COVID-19 pandemic may have raised public expectations for such an emergency declaration, but the monkeypox outbreak remains smaller and, unlike COVID-19, is unlikely to spread through brief accidental contacts or interactions, experts said.

According to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only five of the 7,000 confirmed cases of monkeypox in the United States were children.

Although there are likely to be additional pediatric cases as the country struggles to contain the outbreak, school leaders need to be informed and not alarmed, said Wafaa El-Sadr, professor of epidemiology and medicine. at Columbia University.

“It’s really important to distinguish that this is not about COVID-19. I would take that anxiety away,” El-Sadr said. “Obviously there is always concern when there is an infectious disease outbreak, but at the same time there is no need to panic.”

Here’s what school leaders need to know about monkeypox and how to declare an emergency.

What is monkey pox? Can children get it?

Monkeypox is a rare disease that was first documented in humans in 1970 and has caused occasional outbreaks since, according to the CDC. Symptoms include a blister-like rash that lasts two to four weeks, fatigue, fever, body aches, nasal congestion, and cough. The virus is rarely fatal, the agency said in the advice for doctors.

The virus spreads primarily through direct person-to-person contact or through contact with items such as towels and sheets that have touched an infected person’s rash, according to the CDC.

Children who are at higher risk of serious illness include those 8 years and younger, children with weakened immune systems, and those with skin conditions such as eczema or severe acne. Health officials expect to identify additional cases in children as testing becomes more widely available.

Of course, there is always concern when there is an outbreak of an infectious disease, but at the same time, there is no need to panic.

Wafaa El-Sadr, Professor of Epidemiology and Medicine, Columbia University

The current outbreak has spread across the United States and Europe, and the vast majority of documented cases have been in LGBTQ patients, particularly men who have sex with men, federal health officials said Thursday. The disease is not thought to be sexually transmitted, but it was spread through intimate skin-to-skin contact, according to CDC health guidance.

The White House, in coordination with other federal agencies, is focusing much of its messaging efforts on this affected population while recognizing that the virus can spread through the general population. Agencies have stepped up vaccinations and testing, and officials plan to work with LGBTQ advocates and community groups to spread messages about the risks and symptoms of monkeypox.

Could monkeypox be spreading in schools?

When Illinois officials announced that an adult worker at a Champaign child care center tested positive for monkeypox on Friday, they emphasized that the virus does not spread as easily as COVID-19. Children attending the center will be screened for the disease, but none had tested positive as of Friday, they said.

The CDC and other federal agencies have not issued any official guidelines for school and district leaders on monkeypox, as children have accounted for very few cases.

Pediatric cases documented in the United States have been transmitted between members of children’s households at home, said El-Sadr, of Columbia.

“While COVID-19 is transmitted by casual contact and by people who have no symptoms…with monkeypox it’s quite different,” she said. “The primary route of transmission requires prolonged skin-to-skin contact.”

While it’s possible for contact to occur in school settings or through contact sports like wrestling, it’s still likely to be a relatively rare event, El-Sadr said.

School and district leaders should listen to local health authorities and encourage children with bumps, rashes or sores to seek medical attention, she said.

And, because transmission is largely through direct contact, there is no need for school leaders to prepare detailed contact tracing plans as they have for COVID-19, El-Said said. Sadr.

Schools can play a role in fighting monkeypox stigma

Monkeypox “is not as contagious as some other illnesses that children regularly pass from person to person, but it has happened, and school administrators should be aware that it could happen,” said Gigi Gronvall, senior researcher at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health. Safety at the Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Because the disease has been widely associated with LGBTQ people, a population prone to stereotyping and discrimination, school leaders must be prepared to deal with misinformation and stigma if parents learn the student has contracted a case.

This can mean providing basic information about the disease, making it clear that it can be spread through non-sexual contact and connecting families to resources from trusted sources, she said.

For example, in San Francisco, one of the cities that has seen an increase in monkeypox cases, school district officials shared information from the local health department on the school system’s website.

Why declare a public health emergency?

US Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra declared a public health emergency on Thursday.

Such reporting will make it easier for federal officials to direct resources such as vaccines and treatments and to collect and share state-level information about cases.

“We are applying the lessons learned from the battles we have fought – from the COVID response to wildfires to measles, and we will tackle this outbreak with the urgency this moment demands,” he said. in a press release.

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