Should parents be worried about monkeypox in schools, colleges?

The start of the school year aligns with two high-profile virus outbreaks. Here’s what you need to know when students return to class.

WASHINGTON — Some schools and college campuses across the country are already welcoming students, while others are enjoying their last weeks of summer vacation.

But back to school looks different this year for many parents with the latest variants of COVID-19 and the spread of monkeypox at the top of their minds.

Here’s what you need to know about the two ongoing outbreaks as classes begin and the threat viruses pose to students.

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Variants and schools of COVID-19

The latest surge in COVID-19 cases is linked to a series of new variants that emerged this summer. But as the CDC relaxes its guidelines on COVID-19, many schools are moving back closer to pre-pandemic normal.

The health agency on Thursday dropped the requirement for quarantine if exposed to COVID-19, but still recommends those who test positive isolate themselves from others for at least five days, whether they whether or not they are vaccinated.

School districts across the United States have reduced their COVID-19 precautions in recent weeks, even before the latest CDC guidelines were released.

For those testing with COVID home tests, the FDA now recommends taking three tests to avoid a false negative.

Consistent testing is the best way to confirm if your symptoms are truly COVID-19 related, according to TEGNA medical expert Dr. Payal Kohli. The subvariants responsible for the latest surge, BA.5 and BA.4, pose a different threat as they also have higher reinfection rates.

“Even if you had an infection recently, with omicron, or if you had what we call hybrid immunity, which is infection plus vaccination, which was considered the highest level of protection, we see a rate higher rate of reinfection even in these people,” she said.

Masks continue to be recommended only in areas where community transmission is deemed high, or if a person is deemed to be at high risk for severe illness.

Masks will be optional in most school districts when classes resume this fall, and some of the nation’s largest districts have recalled or eliminated COVID-19 testing requirements.

Kohli said the fall semester begins, the BA. Variant 2.75 could be the next wave of COVID-19. The BA. The 2.75 variant quickly spread in India and appeared in many other countries, including the United States. Like the BA.5 and BA.4 variants, it spreads rapidly and has been shown to circumvent vaccine immunities and protection against previous infections.

Can children get monkeypox?

Although there have only been a very small handful of cases of children contracting monkeypox during this current outbreak, it is possible for children to contract the virus.

“I think going back to school, in my mind, BA. 5, the flu, other colds and infections, those are definitely bigger concerns than the monkeypox virus,” Kohli said.

Although children who contract monkeypox are at higher risk of serious illness, the virus has not spread widely among children. As of mid-August, only five child cases in the United States had tested positive for monkeypox.

Earlier this month, Illinois health officials said a daycare teacher had been infected with monkeypox and dozens of potentially exposed children at daycare. Illinois Department of Public Health officials said children and other co-workers were being screened for monkeypox, The Associated Press reported.

“We hope there will be no child cases,” said Julie Pryde, director of the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District. “But as far as we know, the employee could have gotten it from a child.”

How is monkeypox spread?

Monkeypox, which is a cousin of smallpox, usually Spreads through direct contact with infected rashes, scabs, or bodily fluids. However, it can spread after prolonged face-to-face contact or during intimate contact such as like kisses, hugs or sex.

Blister-like rashes are contagious, especially if they break off.

Touching clothing or bedding previously touched by someone with monkeypox is another possible form of transmission. The virus can spread as soon as symptoms appear and until the blister-like rashes are completely healed.

Monkeypox also poses a threat to pregnant women as the virus can spread through their placentas.

“It’s not a casual respiratory virus that you can just pick up from walking past someone or something, it really requires close contact with the person who’s actively infected,” Kohli said.

RELATED: When should you get tested for monkeypox?

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How to avoid contracting monkeypox?

Monkeypox raises new concerns in terms of spread, such as being aware of linens and surfaces previously touched by someone with monkeypox.

For those still traveling during the last days of summer vacation, be sure to stay in places where sheets and towels are washed and washed. Sharing cups and utensils can also spread the virus.

“If you’re going to an Airbnb, or you’re going to a hotel, and it’s not entirely clear who was staying there before, whether the laundry was done or not, those are all precautions we need to take with this infection that we don’t have to think about as much with COVID-19 and others,” Dr. Kohli suggested.

As with any other virus, hand washing is essential to prevent the spread.

Avoiding prolonged contact such as cuddling, kissing, and sexual intercourse is also suggested by the CDC to avoid getting infected.

University campuses and epidemics

College campuses are no strangers to outbreaks, having dealt with the omicron and delta variants in the last academic year. The monkeypox outbreak is less of a threat to small children, but for teenagers and college students, knowing how the virus spreads is essential.

“It’s really important for parents to educate their children about how this virus is transmitted, so they can minimize the risk of outbreaks on campuses,” Dr. Kohli said.

As college and graduate students return to dorms and college campuses, they should minimize their sexual partners as cases continue to rise. It’s also important for students to know what a monkeypox rash looks like because many live in close proximity to each other, Kohli said.

“This fall is going to be very different from last year for our middle schoolers because we are now dealing with two different outbreaks happening at the same time,” Kohli said. “We still have high BA.5 levels, we might even have the 2.75 which is a more contagious variant of the upcoming omicron and of course we also have the monkeypox that we are dealing with.”

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