Information about Monkeypox

Whitman College is carefully monitoring the global monkeypox outbreak in consultation with our epidemiologist so that we can best support the Whitman College community and so we are ready should the virus present itself on campus. While no cases of monkeypox have been identified at Whitman College, it is important for the health and safety of our community to share regular updates so that everyone is aware of the risks as well as prevention methods.

The CDC has released guidance specifically for institutions of higher education that are valuable for all students, faculty and staff to review. More resources are available via the Washington State Department of Health.

What is monkeypox?

Monkeypox is a condition caused by the monkeypox virus, which is part of the same family of viruses as the virus that causes smallpox. It was first identified in monkeys in a laboratory in Denmark in 1958, but most likely originates in rodents and can spread from person to person. Since May 2022, monkeypox has been reported in a number of countries where the disease is not endemic, including the U.S.

Monkeypox transmission in the current outbreak has so far been most prevalent among men who have sex with men. Infections are likely to spread through direct physical contact. Monkeypox represents a public health threat to everyone and must be approached in a stigma-free way. As with COVID-19, we all have a role to play in protecting our community.

Transmission

Monkeypox spreads in different ways and typically lasts 2-4 weeks. People who do not have monkeypox symptoms cannot spread the virus to others. The virus can spread from person-to-person through:

  • direct contact with an infectious rash, scabs, or body fluids
  • respiratory secretions during prolonged, face-to-face contact, or during intimate physical contact, such as sleeping in the same bed, kissing, cuddling, or sex
  • touching items (such as clothing, linens or surfaces) that previously touched an infectious rash or body fluids and have not yet been disinfected.

Symptoms

Symptoms of monkeypox can include:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Muscle aches and backache
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Chills
  • Exhaustion
  • Respiratory symptoms (e.g., sore throat, nasal congestion, or cough)
  • A rash that may be located on or near the genitals but could also appear on other areas like the hands, feet, chest, face, or mouth.
  • The rash will go through several stages, including scabs, before healing.
    • The rash can look like pimples or blisters and may be painful or itchy.
    • You may experience all or only a few symptoms

Sometimes, people get a rash first, followed by other symptoms. Others only experience a rash.

  • Most people with monkeypox will get a rash.
  • Some people have developed a rash before (or without) other symptoms.
  • Monkeypox symptoms usually start within 3 weeks of exposure to the virus. If someone has flu-like symptoms, they will usually develop a rash 1-4 days later.

The CDC recommends that anyone diagnosed with monkeypox isolate until they are no longer infectious, and has released guidance for congregant living settings such as college residence halls. This guidance may change as we learn more about monkeypox.

Monkeypox Testing

At this time, monkeypox testing must be approved by the Walla Walla County Health Department before a test is administered. Therefore, if a member of the Whitman community displays symptoms of monkeypox, they should go to a walk-in care facility such as Urgent Care for evaluation and possible testing. The Welty Health Center (509-527-5295) is also available as a resource to answer questions you may have about symptoms, exposure, or next steps for testing.

Vaccine

The CDC recommends that those who are exposed to monkeypox receive the vaccine as soon as possible within the first four days after exposure to prevent onset of the disease. After that window of time, the vaccine may reduce symptoms but may not prevent the disease.

The Walla Walla County Health Department has a small number of vaccines for distribution. At this time the vaccines will be distributed to individuals with a confirmed case, close contacts, as well as those populations identified as "high risk" as identified by a questionnaire provided by the health department. When vaccines become more widely available, the Whitman campus community will be notified.