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What should schools be doing as youth monkeypox cases climb?

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Annette Atkinson, Utah Public Health Laboratory infectious disease microbiologist, processes monkeypox test samples.

Annette Atkinson, Utah Public Health Laboratory infectious disease microbiologist, processes monkeypox test samples for DNA extraction at the Utah Public Health Laboratory in Taylorsville on Thursday, Aug. 25, 2022. With 17 cases of monkeypox in youths up to 15 years old already reported nationwide, schools across the country are advised to be on the lookout for signs of the virus in students.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

With 17 cases of monkeypox in youths up to 15 years old already reported nationwide, schools across the country are advised to be on the lookout for signs of the virus in students.

“They’re keeping a close eye on it in their states, and they’re paying attention to what their governor and their state departments of health are saying — and they’re keeping it on their radar,” Noelle Ellerson Ng, the School Superintendents Association’s associate executive director of advocacy and governance, told CNN.

Ng said schools should continue to follow the infectious disease protocols put in place for the COVID-19 pandemic, and can “review, consume and integrate as appropriate” new monkeypox-specific guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Does every school in the nation have monkeypox policy? No,” she said in the interview posted Thursday by the cable news channel. “Most schools in the nation have infectious disease policy and regulations.”

The CDC’s guidance on monkeypox for schools and other settings that serve children and adolescents spells out that although the current outbreak is associated with sexual contact, “Monkeypox virus can infect anyone — including children — if they have close, personal, often skin-to-skin contact with someone who has monkeypox.”

Less common, the agency says, is spread of the virus “by touching contaminated objects (such as toys or eating utensils), fabrics (clothing, bedding, sleeping mats or towels) and surfaces that have been used by someone with monkeypox.”

Schools and other youth settings should continue to follow what the CDC termed everyday measures to reduce disease transmission, such as staying home when sick; washing hands; and routine cleaning and disinfecting. An ill child should be assessed away from others, the agency said, and staff should have personal protective equipment.

Parents, teachers and staff should know the symptoms of monkeypox, which can mimic the flu and include a rash that develops into fluid-filled pustules that eventually scab over and fall off. Youths with symptoms should be seen by a health care provider, the CDC said, and any “stigma and fear-based exclusion” needs to be avoided.

So far, Utah has no suspected or confirmed cases of monkeypox in youths, said Emma Williams, a spokeswoman for the Utah Department of Health and Human Services. According to the department, as of Thursday there have been 92 probable and confirmed cases of the virus in the state since May.

Nationwide, there have been nearly 17,000 monkeypox cases, mostly in men who have sex with other men. But children and teens are also contracting the virus, with 130 cases reported by the CDC through Sunday in people 20 or younger — including six cases in children no older than 5.

Of the 17 cases recorded by the CDC in children and adolescents 15 and younger, 11 cases are males and six are females. The first two cases of children getting monkeypox in the U.S. came last month in California, and this week in Georgia, one elementary school student tested positive for monkeypox and another was being tested.

Georgia’s Newton County School District said parents of students at the schools involved had been notified and “facilities employees will thoroughly clean and disinfect classrooms and other areas at both schools this afternoon to ensure ongoing safe and healthy learning and work environments for students and staff.”