Quinnipiac ‘actively monitoring’ monkeypox virus, university says

Cat Murphy, Staff Writer

Quinnipiac University is working to quell fears about the nationwide monkeypox outbreak as students and faculty return to classrooms without masks for the first time since 2020.

“We are actively monitoring public health guidelines and the latest developments with monkeypox,” John Morgan, associate vice president for public relations wrote in an email to The Chronicle. “We also have the added resources and expertise of our on-campus healthcare partner, Hartford HealthCare, to support Quinnipiac’s efforts should any changes be needed in our student health protocols.”

Illustration by Shavonne Chin

Monkeypox is a disease caused by the monkeypox virus that, though rarely fatal, can cause flu-like symptoms and a painful rash, according to the Connecticut State Department of Health.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, person-to-person transmission of the virus tends to occur through prolonged skin-to-skin or face-to-face contact with someone infected with monkeypox, including during intimate relations. However, contact with respiratory droplets or with objects, fabrics or surfaces used by someone with monkeypox can also spread the disease.

Although the CDC began responding to an outbreak of the monkeypox virus in the U.S. in May, the White House did not declare the virus a public health emergency until early August.

The CDC has confirmed nearly 20,000 cases of monkeypox in the U.S. as of Aug. 22, though NPR reported in early August that this figure is likely higher due to limited testing capabilities.

However, the CDC’s data reveal that only 93 cases have been reported in Connecticut, and weekly case figures from the Connecticut Department of Public Health have steadily declined since mid-August.

“Monkeypox cases seem to be declining but are still present in enough numbers to still warrant concern,” said Dr. Ulysses Wu, an infectious disease specialist and the chief epidemiologist at Hartford HealthCare.

High-density congregate living settings such as college dormitories may present a high-risk environment for person-to-person transmission due to the amount of people living in close proximity, Wu said.

“It is possible (the monkeypox virus) could spread on a college campus, depending on their public health measures, as well as education,” Wu said.

Although monkeypox cases are declining nationally, multiple U.S. colleges have reported recent cases of the virus on campus.

According to NPR, monkeypox cases were confirmed at Georgetown University in Washington D.C. and the University of Texas at Austin earlier this summer, and the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy reported an additional case at the University of Pittsburgh on Sept. 1. These reports come as many universities, including Quinnipiac, are beginning to relax their COVID-19 policies.

“The best way (to avoid infection) is to avoid close, prolonged physical contact with individuals who may have monkeypox,” Wu said. “This includes not engaging in any risky sexual behavior.”

More than half of undergraduate students nationwide reported having vaginal or oral sex within the last 12 months, according to 2022 data from the National College Health Assessment.

Although anyone exposed to monkeypox is at risk of contracting the virus, CDC data indicates that gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men account for the majority of monkeypox cases in the U.S. Wu expressed concerns about the stigma that may be associated with the virus as a result and its potential implications on a college campus.

“Any outbreak, including monkeypox, has the chance to adversely affect any college campus,” Wu said. “But with monkeypox, there may be a stigma associated with it as well.”

Quinnipiac has not implemented any monkeypox-specific safety precautions, though university officials said they are monitoring the outbreak.

“While there have been few reported cases of monkeypox in Connecticut, students can make an appointment to visit Student Health Services if they would like to discuss any concerns regarding monkeypox or to request more information,” the university wrote in an email to the Quinnipiac community on Sept. 1.

The university also directed concerned students and faculty members to the general public health information about monkeypox published by the state Department of Public Health and the CDC.

Many students reported having no concerns about the virus.

“I don’t really have any concerns with the monkeypox virus here on campus,” said Katrina Warren, a senior finance major. “I don’t think the university really has anything to be worried about right now.”

Ethan Figueroa, a first-year film, television and media arts major, expressed similar feelings about the monkeypox virus, saying he felt that the university’s preventative measures have “mostly been centered around COVID.”

“I haven’t seen or heard any precautions,” Figueroa said. “I don’t think I’ve seen (the monkeypox virus) taken seriously, so I can’t take it seriously based on what I’ve seen.”

However, some students acknowledged having concerns about the university’s response to the virus and the potential for an outbreak on campus.

Tobias Adams, a sophomore psychology major in the accelerated dual-degree 3+2 social work program, expressed frustration with the university’s “lack of action.”

“I am semi-concerned for any kind of outbreak, but I’m mostly concerned with the fact that not everybody really knows what (monkeypox) is or what’s going on with it,” Adams said.