Penn State student tests positive for monkeypox in 1st confirmed case at University Park

·4 min read

An off-campus Penn State student has tested for positive for monkeypox in the first confirmed case at University Park, according to both the university and the state Department of Health.

Per a Penn State news release, dated Wednesday, the student tested positive Aug. 13 and is currently isolating and recovering. Close contacts have been identified and notified through contact tracing from the state DOH.

Monkeypox symptoms are similar to smallpox but milder — including fever, chills, respiratory issues, rashes, etc. — and the illness is rarely fatal, though the skin lesions are painful and can cause scarring. It is much less contagious than COVID-19, and most patients require no treatment, according to the state DOH.

Symptoms typically begin within three weeks of exposure, and the illness usually lasts 2-4 weeks.

According to Penn State, University Health Services first contacted the state DOH — and the two entities continue to monitor the case.

It was known Monday that north-central Pennsylvania had five cases of monkeypox but, due to patient confidentiality reasons, it is not known if the Penn State case served as Centre County’s first.

More than 13,000 monkeypox cases have already been confirmed around the U.S., with Pennsylvania suffering 362 cases as of Wednesday afternoon, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Pennsylvania ranks eighth in the country among monkeypox cases, behind more-populated states such as New York (2,675), California (2,356), Florida (1,346) and Texas (1,078) and others like Georgia (1,033), Illinois (875) and New Jersey (367).

Note: This graphic will automatically update as new data become available.

The first confirmed U.S. case this year occurred in Massachusetts on May 18. The first case in Pennsylvania occurred in Philadelphia on June 2.

Penn State issued a second news release Wednesday to educate the community more about the virus, which some falsely believe is spread only through sexual contact or only through the LGBTQ community. In reality, the virus can happen to anyone and spreads through direct skin-to-skin contact or intimate contact like kissing or cuddling. Even contact with objects or fabrics that previously touched the rash or body fluids of someone with monkeypox — like drinking from the same glass or using the same blanket — can spread the virus, per the university.

Transmission can also occur via an infected animal or via the placenta during pregnancy.

What to know about signs, symptoms and prevention

The first symptoms of monkeypox often include a fever, headache, muscle aches, backache, swollen lymph nodes, a general feeling of discomfort and exhaustion. Patients typically develop a rash — which often, but not always, starts on the face — within three days of experiencing a fever.

The virus is contagious from the time time symptoms start until the rash has healed, all scabs have fallen off and a fresh layer of skin has formed, per the CDC.

“We know that students often live in close quarters and spend a lot of time interacting closely with their peers, so we want our community to be aware of the signs and symptoms of monkeypox and steps that they can take to protect themselves and our campus community as a whole,” Penn State UHS medical director Rebecca Simcik said in a written statement. “We are in close contact with the Pennsylvania Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and we have a response plan in place for diagnosing, assessing and treating any student who may contract the monkeypox virus.”

Students who develop symptoms are advised to schedule an appointment with UHS or call the 24/7 Advice Nurse at 814-865-4847 and press 3. Anyone who tests positive should isolate at home, away from others in their household.

Students who contract monkeypox “should expect” to complete their isolation at home, since the isolation period can last up to four weeks. Student Affairs will work work with those who are unable to travel and, because the virus spreads through direct contact, faculty members will not be notified if one of their students tests positive.

The Pennsylvania DOH has received a limited supply of the monkeypox vaccine from the Federal Strategic National Stockpile, and it is being made available to public health departments and clinics that see a lot of high-risk individuals. Those at-risk who believe they qualify for a vaccine should contact their health care provider or call 877-PA-HEALTH for more information.

More information about monkeypox at Penn State can be found at the university’s Student Affairs health and wellness website.