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Monkeypox Updates and Resources

Dear students, faculty and staff,

With the repopulation of our campuses for the new academic year, we take this opportunity to share that Northwestern Medicine Student Health Service has created a new webpage with details about monkeypox symptoms, transmission, treatment, vaccination and student resources. Through ongoing engagement with public health officials, as well as our own infectious disease experts and scholars of sex and sexuality, Northwestern will continue to refine information and guidance on our response to monkeypox.

Monkeypox is a viral illness that typically begins with flu-like symptoms and swelling of the lymph nodes, often leading to a rash on the face and body; in the current outbreak, they are most common around the anus and genitals. Recovery generally lasts from two to four weeks. Sexual activity has been by far the major route of transmission in the U.S., as certified by the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention, but monkeypox also is widely believed to travel by other skin-to-skin contact.

Anyone can contract the virus with sufficient exposure for transmission. Currently, though, the virus is predominantly affecting men who have sex with men and their sexual contacts. In the U.S., Black and Latino men are experiencing disproportionately higher rates of transmission. According to public health and infectious disease experts, however, there is virtually no chance of contracting the virus simply from being in close proximity to someone who is infected. Transmission seems to require close skin-to-skin contact, intimate contact or exposure to items that previously touched a monkeypox skin lesion.

The Chicago-based, LGBTQ-focused organization Howard Brown Health has published helpful information about monkeypox in English and Spanish. Howard Brown Health recommends vaccination to “sexually active bisexual, gay and other men who have sex with men, and transgender persons” and to “anyone who has had close contacts with someone diagnosed with monkeypox regardless of sex, gender, or sexual orientation.” Northwestern is monitoring vaccine availability and gauging whether the University may be helpful with distribution as the supply grows.

Please know that individuals who contract the virus have Northwestern’s full support. Students who suspect they have monkeypox, have had close personal contact with someone who has monkeypox or are interested in receiving a vaccine should contact Northwestern Medicine Student Health Service in Evanston or Chicago for guidance. Faculty and staff who need to take medical leave should work with their medical providers and follow existing Northwestern processes.

This Friday, Sept. 23, you may wish to attend an event that will be co-hosted by Northwestern’s Gender & Sexuality Studies Program and the Sexualities Project at Northwestern. This LGBTQ-focused Monkeypox Conversation will take place from 12:30-2 p.m. in Trienens Forum in Kresge Hall on the Evanston campus. Led by faculty members Steven Thrasher and Chad Horne, the event will address the topics of prevention, care, community and larger contexts. Dialogues such as this are critical to understanding monkeypox, targeting care to at-risk groups without inducing stigma, and preventing the spread of this virus.