Campus prepares as monkeypox spreads through Bay Area

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Kyle Garcia Takata/Staff
Campus is preparing for the possibility of an uptick in monkeypox cases during the fall semester.

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As the monkeypox virus continues to spread through the Bay Area, UC Berkeley has begun preparations for a localized outbreak among students.

University Health Services, or UHS, spokesperson Tami Cate said campus has already treated “a few” cases of monkeypox. She added UHS will begin its vaccination program Thursday with exposed individuals given top priority.

However, Cate highlighted that one potential issue in this program is that campus only has 50 doses of the monkeypox vaccine.

“UHS is working in conjunction with the City of Berkeley to get a more steady vaccine allotment,” Cate said in an email. “However, it is not likely that we will get a large supply and so students, faculty, and staff should continue to check with their health care providers and clinics in the community on vaccine eligibility and supply.”

Campus’s vaccine program followed the recent announcement from California Gov. Gavin Newsom that declared monkeypox to be a statewide emergency. According to a press release from the California Department of Public Health, California needs an additional 600,000 to 800,000 vaccine doses to meet the demand for protection against the virus.

UCSF infectious diseases professor Peter Chin-Hong said that though the risk of contracting monkeypox is “low,” the upcoming fall semester may see an uptick in cases.

“It would not be surprising that a social and sexual network within schools can fuel the outbreaks even more because there’s a lot in the Bay Area right now,” Chin-Hong said.

Chin-Hong said the monkeypox outbreak is currently more common among men who have sex with men, or MSM, than other population groups. However, he emphasized that anybody can contract the virus, and that this is not an excuse to stigmatize them.

“Monkeypox can easily be spread to women,” Chin-Hong said. “There’s nothing biological about it staying within (the MSM) network.”

As a further example of how the virus does not discriminate, Chin-Hong cited a 2003 outbreak of the disease that was spread among prairie dog owners.

Chin-Hong said the manner in which monkeypox spreads is different from COVID-19 in that skin-to-skin contact is the easiest way to get monkeypox, with sexual transmission though bodily fluids also carrying potential risks. He added airborne transmission is “unlikely,” as is contracting monkeypox through touching a surface that an infected person touched.

Moreover, Chin-Hong said we are more capable of fighting monkeypox because of its long incubation period. This means that someone exposed to the virus can be vaccinated after their exposure.

According to Chin-Hong, receiving post-exposure prophylaxis within four days of exposure can prevent illness. Getting the same vaccine within the first two weeks can reduce the severity of the illness, provided the patient does not have a rash.

“There’s actually a lot of silver linings about this disease because the incubation period is so long that, even after you get exposed, unlike COVID, you can develop antibodies to help against the virus,” Chin-Hong said. “It takes long between exposure to disease.”

Contact Lance Roberts at [email protected], and follow him on Twitter at @lance_roberts.