How to Stay Safe From Monkeypox While Living in Dorms

Health experts say education and awareness are key to stopping the spread of monkeypox in congregate living settings like college dorms.

Updated September 14, 2022

Edited by Raneem Taleb-Agha
How to Stay Safe From Monkeypox While Living in Dorms
Photo by Yellow Dog Productions / Photodisc / Getty Images

  • There were more than 21,000 confirmed monkeypox cases across the United States as of Sept. 8, 2022.
  • The disease largely spreads through close contact.
  • Experts say students in dorms can stay safe by avoiding close contact and getting vaccinated if needed.

With college students across the United States moving into dorms en masse this fall, experts say awareness will be key to preventing the spread of monkeypox on campus.

There were more than 21,985 confirmed monkeypox cases across the country as of Sept. 12, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The monkeypox virus is a completely different virus than the viruses that cause COVID-19 or measles, according to the CDC. It is not known to linger in the air and is not transmitted during short periods of shared airspace.

It spreads through direct contact with body fluids or sores on the body of someone who has monkeypox or by direct contact with materials, such as clothing or linens, that have touched body fluids or sores of someone with monkeypox. It may also spread through respiratory secretions when people have close, face-to-face contact or during intimate physical contact, such as kissing, cuddling, or sex.

So, how can colleges keep students safe? What can students living in dorms do to protect themselves and their campus community from monkeypox?

To find out, BestColleges asked Dr. Wafaa El-Sadr, founder and director of ICAP at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health, and Dr. George Rust, director of Florida State University’s Center for Medicine and Public Health.

Education Key to Stopping Spread — and Stigmatization — of Monkeypox

While education efforts to inform students about how monkeypox spreads and how to stay safe are underway, those efforts should be expanded and prioritized, El-Sadr said. Students need to know both how the disease spreads — and how it doesn’t spread — in order to stay safe.

Both El-Sadr emphasized that everyone needs to exercise caution and warned against stigmatizing people who get monkeypox.

“These viruses, they don’t discriminate,” El-Sadr said. “We ourselves should not discriminate or stigmatize anyone with an infectious disease.”

People who have sex with multiple different partners are at a higher risk for the disease than people who don’t and should be particularly cautious about the disease, Rust said.

“While [the initial cases in this outbreak] have been in a certain subset of the population — men having sexual contact with men — there’s nothing about the virus that would make it be that way forever,” he said.

Avoid Close Contact, Keep Shared Space Clean

Universities should provide space for students to isolate themselves if they test positive for monkeypox, El-Sadr said.

Likewise, students should keep a close eye out for potential symptoms if they’re exposed to someone with the virus, she said. If students see any unusual symptoms after being exposed to someone with monkeypox, they should “immediately seek medical attention” and get tested.

Those that test positive for monkeypox and live in close proximity to others should cover any lesions and keep their laundry separate, Rust said.

Rust emphasized that while the virus that causes monkeypox is susceptible to bleach, alcohol, sunlight, aerosol disinfectant, and laundry detergent, it can last on uncleaned linens, towels, and clothes.

“On one hand, the virus is easy to kill on surfaces,” Rust said. “On the other hand, if you don’t (use disinfectants), it can survive a long time — up to 15 days, we think at this point.”

He added that students might also want to avoid sharing drinks.

“Anything that’s putting you in contact with other people’s bodily fluids … all those things are really where we’re seeing almost all of the transmission right now,” Rust said.

Get Vaccinated if You’re Exposed to Monkeypox

Colleges aren’t issuing monkeypox vaccine mandates, but both El-Sadr and Rust said students should get vaccinated if they’re in close contact with someone who tests positive for the virus.

Those folks should seek a vaccine “as soon as possible,” El-Sadr said. Vaccines can prevent illness after exposure. Rust added that getting vaccinated within the first four days of contact with someone who has monkeypox can actually prevent infection.

A roommate of a person that tests positive for monkeypox would be considered a close contact and thus eligible for the vaccine, El-Sadr said.

“The vaccines are available for close contacts,” she said. “This would be a scenario where the person was a close contact and would be a very high priority for getting vaccinated.”