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The Dartmouth
June 20, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

College prepares measures against monkeypox, no confirmed cases on campus

The College held an online webinar in August informing the community about the disease, and vaccines are currently being offered to eligible students at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center.

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In response to rising cases of monkeypox throughout the country, the College has implemented precautionary measures, including hosting an informational webinar and offering vaccines to eligible students at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center. “A few” peer institutions have had confirmed cases on their campuses, according to student affairs communications director Elizabeth Ellis in an email statement. 

As of Sept. 12, the College has not reported a confirmed case of monkeypox — an infectious viral disease in the same family as smallpox — according to clinical medical services director Ann Bracken.

On Aug. 18, more than 100 people attended a College-sponsored webinar about monkeypox, according to the College’s announcement. The webinar, held by Bracken and New Hampshire deputy state epidemiologist Elizabeth Talbot, focused on the disease’s history, the current global outbreak and resources in the Upper Valley, including vaccines.

In the webinar, Talbot said the state’s public health response consists of containment and prevention of the disease. She noted that the goals of containment of monkeypox were different to those for COVID-19; for instance, Talbot said that the state would monitor, not quarantine, people who have been exposed to monkeypox because asymptomatic people cannot transmit the disease. She highlighted that anyone “regardless of gender identity and sexual orientation” can contract monkeypox. 

According to the World Health Organization — which declared the spread of monkeypox a global health emergency on July 23 — human-to-human transmission of the disease occurs through close physical contact, such as through respiratory droplets from an infected person during face-to-face contact. 

In an interview, Talbot said that people who are infected show symptoms “within one to three weeks” of exposure. Some of these initial symptoms are flu-like, such as headaches and a fever, which may appear before a pimple-like rash appears, according to Talbot. In addition, symptoms are “mild and self-limiting,” meaning those infected usually get better without requiring treatment. However, Talbot said that people who are at higher risk — such as immunocompromised individuals and people with untreated advanced HIV — may become hospitalized.

Although the WHO states that it is “unclear at this time” if monkeypox can be sexually transmitted, a study from the New England Journal of Medicine published in late August stated that around 98% of people with monkeypox were gay or bisexual men. 

Talbot said that while the majority of cases of monkeypox have occurred between men who have sex with men, defining it as a sexually-transmitted disease is “a semantics issue” because it can also be transmitted through means other than sex.

“Sexually transmitted infections are those that are transmitted by the act of sex almost exclusively, whereas we think of monkeypox as potentially spread during sex itself,” she said.

In response to a question about whether the College would open a monkeypox vaccine clinic for students, Bracken wrote that the CDC “is not encouraging vaccination for monkeypox for the broader public.”

According to the CDC, the first case of monkeypox in the United States occurred in mid-May. On Aug. 4, the Biden administration declared the spread of monkeypox a national health emergency. There have been over 22,000 cases of monkeypox in the United States, according to the CDC. In New Hampshire, there have been 27 confirmed cases as of Sept. 15.

In an email statement, Bracken wrote that the College has identified isolation housing for students “living in residential housing diagnosed with monkeypox.” She also wrote that the College would support students living off-campus with monkeypox “​​in conjunction with [Vermont] and [New Hampshire] public health departments to support medical recommendations.” 

In addition, Ellis wrote that the College “has worked with at-risk students to ensure that they have access to vaccinations.” Dartmouth College Health Service specifically recommends the vaccine for those who have been identified as a close contact of someone with monkeypox or if a sex partner in the past two weeks has been diagnosed with monkeypox. Men or transgender or gender-diverse people who have sex with men may consider getting the vaccine if they engage in higher-risk sexual activity, such as having multiple new sex partners within the previous month, according to the College Health Service website. 

Although students can receive the Jynneos monkeypox vaccine, some students have expressed confusion about scheduling an appointment. An anonymous member of the Class of 2024, who requested anonymity to speak more freely about his experience, said that he intends to receive the vaccine, but noted that he would need to receive a referral from a doctor. While Dick’s House does not give vaccinations, the office can grant such a referral. According to the Dick’s House’s website, students who wish to receive the vaccine may need to schedule a phone consultation to receive a referral from their healthcare provider. 

The student said that this process establishes obstacles to getting the vaccine.

“I feel like whenever you add steps to getting something, it just creates more barriers because people don’t want to go through those steps, or people may not feel comfortable discussing these types of things with strangers,” he said.

Bracken wrote that “a number of students” have received the Jynneos vaccine through the states of New Hampshire and Vermont. In addition, she noted that these students were “pleased with the ease of obtaining the vaccine.”

Manuel Rodriguez ’23 wrote in an email statement that he scheduled his second vaccine appointment at DHMC, after getting his first in New York City. While Rodriguez wrote that “the entire process was a large scramble” to get his first vaccine shot, the second vaccine shot was “so much easier,” noting all he did was call and schedule his appointment.

Talbot noted the difference between the public health response to monkeypox and that of COVID-19, describing how “we’re in a better place” to deal with monkeypox due to the availability of vaccines and a better knowledge of the disease. 

“Whereas COVID-19 spreads very casually by breathing and being in close proximity to somebody’s respiratory droplets — that’s hard to avoid — monkeypox is easier to avoid,” Talbot said. “So for me, I hope that people who are at risk can adjust their behavior and prevent it. I just don’t think risk is widespread at this point.”


Daniel Modesto

Daniel Modesto ’24 is the News executive editor. He is from Brooklyn, New York, and is a Native American and Indigenous Studies major modified with Latin American, Latino and Caribbean Studies.