UMass Lowell’s Health Services is closely monitoring our local, regional and national public health situation regarding the global outbreak of monkeypox and have developed plans to identify, test, isolate, manage contacts, and monitor cases should they occur in our campus community.
Health Services is also partnering with other UML departments to educate students on reducing the risk of contracting Monkeypox. We encourage the entire UMass community to familiarize themselves with the basic facts about monkeypox and to take steps to prevent its spread by visiting reliable sources like the Massachusetts Department of Public Health monkeypox website or the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Monkeypox website for the most up to date and accurate information about this health issue.
What is monkeypox?
Monkeypox is a rare disease caused by infection with the monkeypox virus and rarely fatal. The monkeypox virus is part of the same family of viruses that causes with symptoms similar but milder symptoms. It can also cause flu-like symptoms and a rash, and sometimes the rash can be quite painful.
While Monkeypox is not a sexually transmitted disease as it can be transmitted by any direct physical contact between someone’s rash, scabs, bodily fluids and another person, this does include sexual activity and any touching of the lesions/rash between people or even touching clothing or bedding that an infected person used.
In this current outbreak many of the cases to date are related to individuals who contracted it due to close physical contact during sexual activity.
How is monkeypox spread?
Monkeypox is spread 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 kissing (if there are oral lesions), cuddling or sex;
- touching objects, fabrics (such as clothing or linens) that previously touched the rash or body fluids of someone with monkeypox lesions; and
- being scratched or bitten by an infected animal.
Monkeypox can be acquired by all people, regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation.
Monkeypox causes a rash.
Monkeypox can spread from the time symptoms start until the rash has fully healed and a fresh layer of skin has formed. This can take up to several weeks.
Signs and Symptoms
Monkeypox often starts with flulike symptoms or sometimes with a rash only. The rash can have many lesions scattered over the body but sometimes a person might only have a few lesions.
Symptoms of monkeypox can include:
- Muscle aches and backache
- Swollen lymph nodes
- A rash that can look like pimples or blisters that appears on the face, inside the mouth, and on other parts of the body, like the hands, feet, chest, genitals or anus.
The rash goes through different stages before healing completely. The illness typically lasts two to four weeks. Sometimes, people get a rash first, followed by other symptoms. Others only experience a rash.
What to do if you think you have monkeypox?
Seek medical care (if you are a UMass Lowell student call the Wellness Center during regular business hours at 978-934-6800) and avoid close physical contact and gatherings, including sex with others, until you find out what is causing your symptoms.
Wear a mask and cover your rash when you need to go out for medical appointments.
Talk to your partners about any recent illnesses or rashes they might have.
If you have a rash and think you might be at risk for monkeypox due to an exposure or high-risk activities call Health Services at 978-934-6800 or your primary care provider to be evaluated. Make sure to wear a mask and to cover any lesions you have with clothing before traveling to any medical appointment.
If monkeypox is suspected, UML Health Services can conduct monkeypox testing with results available within a few days. If after seeing your provider there is concern you have monkeypox you will be instructed to isolate until you get results.
What to do if you test positive for monkeypox?
People with monkeypox should follow these recommendations until cleared by state or local public health officials:
- Stay home except to receive medical care.
- Avoid close contact with others including friends, family or others while you still have lesions.
- Cover all your lesions and wear a mask when if you need to have close contact with others.
- Routinely clean and disinfect commonly touched surfaces and items, such as counters or light switches, using an EPA-registered disinfectant in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions.
- Do not engage in sexual activity that involves direct physical contact. Review the CDC's guidance on monkeypox and safer sex.
- Do not share clothing, bedding, towels, utensils, etc.
- Wash bedding often (UML Residential student now have access to no charge laundry!).
- Avoid rash touching upholstered surfaces on furniture.
- Avoid close contact with any pets (to the extent possible).
- Try to avoid public transportation.
- Avoid use of contact lenses to prevent inadvertent infection of the eye.
- Avoid shaving rash-covered areas of the body as this can lead to spread of the virus.
How can you reduce your risk and prevent spread?
- Avoid close contact (including sexual contact) with people who are sick or have a rash.
- Decrease the number of sex and intimate contact partners.
- Avoid gatherings where people wear minimal clothing and have the potential for direct, intimate, skin-to-skin contact.
- Don’t share clothing or linens (Remember Residential students now have access to free laundry!).
- Be mindful of activities (e.g., kissing, sharing drinks and eating utensils) that might increase the risk for spreading monkeypox whenever you gather with others.
Is there a monkeypox vaccine?
When properly administered before or after a recent exposure, vaccines can be effective tools at protecting people against monkeypox illness and can make it less severe after exposure.
Supplies of the monkeypox vaccine are currently limited, both locally and nationally. Currently (8/16/2022) vaccine is limited in Massachusetts and is prioritized for those exposed or at most risk. UML Health Services staff and your primary care provider will help you access vaccine if appropriate.