Monkeypox: What To Know

Cornell is responding to the global outbreak of monkeypox first identified in May 2022. Cases have been confirmed across the U.S., including in New York State and in Tompkins County. We are collaborating with local and national health experts to develop a comprehensive campus response involving healthcare providers, academics, and student affairs professionals.

Last updated: August 13, 2022

    About monkeypox

    Monkeypox is a rare disease caused by infection with the monkeypox virus. Symptoms are similar to those of smallpox, but milder, and monkeypox is rarely fatal. Read more from the CDC About Monkeypox.

    What are the symptoms?

    • Monkeypox often begins with the experience of flu-like symptoms (fever, muscle pain, swollen lymph nodes, respiratory symptoms). These symptoms are often followed by a rash or sores (usually painful) that can look like pimples or blisters. (See examples of monkeypox rash.)
    • You may experience all or only a few symptoms.
      • Sometimes people have flu-like symptoms before the rash.
      • Some people get a rash first, followed by other symptoms.
      • Others only experience a rash.
    • Symptoms usually start within two weeks of exposure to the virus, but can occur up to three weeks later. The illness is usually mild, although can be painful and result in permanent scarring. Severe cases may occur in young children, pregnant people, or people with suppressed immune systems (including those with HIV).  

    How is it spread?

    The most common route of transmission, according to the CDC, is direct physical contact with monkeypox rash, sores, or scabs (often through sexual and other close / intimate touch).  

    Other routes of transmission include:

    • Contact with objects or fabrics (e.g., clothing, bedding, or towels) that have been used by someone with monkeypox
    • Through respiratory droplets or oral fluids (e.g., saliva) shared during kissing or other prolonged face-to-face contact

    Who is at risk?

    Depending on behavior, anyone in close contact with someone who has monkeypox could become infected. (See "How is it spread?" above.)

    Public health data indicate that during this current outbreak, some populations are being infected by monkeypox more than others. [See Epidemiologic and Clinical Characteristics of Monkeypox Cases.] However, transmission is a function of behavior, not identities. (See "How is it spread?" above.) Vaccination is being prioritized for individuals at the highest risk (see vaccination information below).

    Vaccination

    Vaccination can help reduce the likelihood of contracting monkeypox. Read more about monkeypox vaccines from the CDC. Vaccine supply is currently limited.

    Is the monkeypox vaccine available to Cornell students?

    Vaccination is not yet widely available at Cornell or in Tompkins County. At this time, vaccine supply is being allocated through the federal government to New York counties with the highest number of confirmed cases and only for those at high risk of infection.

    The Tompkins County Health Department (TCHD) is currently able to assist individuals who received the first half of a 2-dose vaccine elsewhere and who are in need of the second dose. Individuals in this situation should call the TCHD at 607-274-6600 to make an appointment.  

    When supply becomes more readily available in our area, Cornell Health will be working with the TCHD to help students access vaccination. 

    How do I know if I'm eligible?

    According to the New York State Department of Health, vaccine eligibility is currently limited to...

    • individuals with recent exposure to a suspected or confirmed monkeypox case within the past 14 days
    • those at high risk of a recent exposure to monkeypox, including gay men and members of the bisexual, transgender, and gender non-conforming community and other communities of men who have sex with men and who have engaged in intimate or skin-to-skin contact with others in the past 14 days areas where monkeypox is spreading.
    • individuals who have had skin-to-skin contact with someone in a social network experiencing monkeypox activity, including men who have sex with men who meet partners through an online website, digital application ("app"), or social event, such as a bar or party

    Refer to the NYS Department of Health's website for the most current eligibility information.

    Where can I get vaccine updates?

    Vaccine supply and eligibility are expected to increase in the months ahead. For the most current information, visit the NYS Department of Health's website.

    Evaluation & Testing

    Cornell Health is partnering with the Tompkins County Health Department (TCHD) to test, identify needs for isolation, and treat students with symptoms of monkeypox. 

    What happens at Cornell Health?

    Your healthcare provider can evaluate your symptoms and will decide if testing is needed. Testing consists of swabbing a sore/lesion and results can take 3-5 days to be processed. If you have a skin rash (sores/blisters) that might suggest monkeypox, please make an appointment to be seen: 607-255-5155.

    Students outside of Ithaca: See information below for students at Cornell Tech and Cornell in Washington.  

    Should I get tested if I had close contact with someone who has monkeypox?

    It depends. If you have been identified as a "close contact" of someone who has monkeypox, our local health department will remain in contact with you and monitor your health. If symptoms appear, please call Cornell Health [607-255-5155] to consult with a healthcare provider. Note: Symptoms usually start within two weeks of exposure to the virus, but can occur up to three weeks later.

    Isolation

    The purpose of isolation is to separate a person who has a confirmed case of monkeypox or is being tested for monkeypox from others in order to prevent viral spread. 

    How does isolation work for monkeypox?

    Isolation for monkeypox is different than it is for COVID-19. Due to the nature and transmissibility of monkeypox, isolation begins right after testing (when there is a high risk of transmission) and lasts longer, but in some situations offers more flexibility when compared to isolation for COVID.

    • After testing: If your healthcare provider assesses that you are at high risk for monkeypox infection, you will be asked to isolate for 3-5 days while awaiting your test results. In these situations, students living in university-owned housing will be temporarily relocated to isolation rooms.  
    • Until healed: If your test comes back positive, your stay in isolation will be extended, typically for two to four weeks. The length of time depends upon how long it takes your body to heal from the infection. Full healing typically means that any scabs have fallen off your sores and that your rash has formed a fresh layer of skin.
    • "Breaking isolation:" Students will work with Student Disability Services (SDS) and their academic program to arrange for academic accommodations that allow them to continue their studies while remaining in isolation, whenever feasible. When this isn’t possible, their healthcare provider may allow them to temporarily "break" / leave isolation to remain engaged in their studies. This can only be approved if the student:
      • has no fever or respiratory symptoms
      • can fully cover their rash or sores with a clean bandage and clean clothing
      • wears a mask
      • wears gloves [if sores / blisters are on their hands]
      • can minimize their time out of isolation 

    Students required to isolate will receive a secure message from Cornell Health with detailed isolation instructions based on current guidance from the Tompkins County Health Department. They will also receive an email from the Cornell Campus Public Health Support Team which will include information from Student Disability Services (SDS) that a student can send to instructors to let them know they will not be able to participate in in-person learning for at least two weeks. 

    What should I pack if I need to leave my room / suite for isolation?

    If you'll be moving into university-provided isolation housing, don't forget to pack these essentials!

    • Clothing (clean): Enough clean clothing (e.g., loungewear, comfortable clothes) for two-weeks’ duration of isolation Note: laundry services will be provided for students placed in university isolation housing.

    • Dirty bedding, towels, & clothing (yes, really!): Due to the risk of transmitting monkeypox, you must bring to your isolation location plastic bags filled with your bedding and towels (currently in use), as well as any dirty clothing in your room/suite. These items will be laundered and returned to you.

    • Toiletries: Toothbrush/toothpaste, soap/body wash, shampoo and hair care, skin care products, deodorant, feminine hygiene products, eye care, etc.

    • Health-related supplies: masks / face coverings, gloves (to clean any shared bathroom spaces or cover sores), prescription medications (include at least two weeks' worth, non-prescription medications and supplies (e.g., Tylenol or ibuprofen, thermometer), glasses and/or contact lenses and solution

    • Snacks: snacks and beverages you might want for in between meals
    • Comfort items: robe, slippers, favorite pillow, journal

    • Academic materials: any class materials, readings, or textbooks

    • Electronics: phone and phone charger, computer and computer charger

    • Entertainment: yoga mat, gaming items, books or magazines to read for fun

    • Personal documents: wallet, license, photo ID, student ID card, health insurance card

    Where do students isolate?

    • Students staying in university housing may be provided with a private room for isolation until test results are available. Students who test positive will either continue staying in their private room or – depending on the availability of isolation housing at the time – be moved to an isolation space with others who have tested positive until symptoms resolve. You will receive an email from the Cornell Campus Public Health Support Team with detailed isolation instructions.
    • Students in off-campus housing will generally self-isolate in their residence, while following CDC guidance for Preventing Monkeypox Spread in Congregate Housing

    What should I do if I live in shared (non-university) housing?

    Follow this CDC guidance for Preventing Monkeypox Spread in Congregate Housing, including:

    • While symptomatic with a fever or any respiratory symptoms, remain isolated unless it is necessary to see a healthcare provider or for an emergency.  This includes avoiding close or physical contact with other people and animals.
    • If you do not have a fever or any respiratory symptoms AND you can fully cover your rash or lesions with a bandage or gloves: 
      • Use a clean bandage and/or gloves to fully cover your lesions/rash.
      • Wear clean clothing and a well-fitting mask and avoid close face-to-face contact.
      • Avoid public transportation.
      • Avoid close physical, intimate, or sexual contact.
      • Avoid sharing utensils, cups, or other personal items.

    What if I need to leave my isolation space?

    Generally speaking, people with monkeypox should remain in isolation for the full duration of symptoms, which typically lasts two to four weeks. This is important, as monkeypox can be spread from the time symptoms begin until all symptoms have resolved, including full healing of the rash with formation of a fresh layer of skin. However, according to the Isolation and Prevention Practices from the CDC, if a person with monkeypox must leave their space for a short time, they should follow these recommendations to reduce transmission:

    While symptomatic with a fever or any respiratory symptoms, including sore throat, nasal congestion, or cough, remain isolated unless it is necessary to see a healthcare provider or for an emergency.  This includes avoiding close or physical contact with other people and animals.

    If you do not have a fever or any respiratory symptoms AND you can fully cover your rash or lesions with a bandage or gloves: 

    • Use a clean bandage and/or gloves to fully cover your lesions/rash.
    • Wear clean clothing and a well-fitting mask and avoid close face-to-face contact.
    • Avoid public transportation.
    • Avoid close physical, intimate, or sexual contact.
    • Avoid sharing utensils, cups, or other personal items.

    What if I'm feeling worse?

    Students in isolation with monkeypox who develop worsening or concerning symptoms should call Cornell Health 24/7 at 607-255-5155 to consult. 

    How do I let professors know I'm in isolation and that I can't attend class?

    • If you are waiting for test results, send your professors the letter you received from Student Disability Services (SDS). Your test results will typically be available within 3-5 days. 
    • If you test positive, Cornell Health​'s Student Disability Services (SDS) staff and medical clinicians will work with students, their academic programs and the Tompkins County Health Department to minimize the impact on the student's studies while in isolation (typically for 2-4 weeks).

    How can I take care of my mental health while in isolation?

    • Visit Mental Health at Cornell for ways to stay connected and support your well-being.

    • Call Cornell Health 24/7 (607-255-5155) to speak with a licensed therapist from our on-call service.

    • Consult informally with a CAPS counselor online through Let’s Talk.

    • Connect with someone now through one of these recommended hotlines or textlines, including options especially for students of color and LGBTQ students.

    Treatment

    Antiviral medications may be appropriate to treat monkeypox symptoms. Where available, vaccination can reduce the chance and severity of infection in those who have been exposed. They may be recommended for people who are more likely to get severely ill, like patients with weakened immune systems. Read more from the CDC about treatment for monkeypox.

    Medical support for students on the Ithaca or Geneva campus

    Students can call Cornell Health 24/7 to consult with a medical provider: 607-255-5155

    Medical support for students at Cornell Tech or Cornell in Washington

    If you develop symptoms, guidance will be coming from your local health department. You will likely be directed to a healthcare provider in your local area to assist with medical evaluation and testing options.

    Other support  

    The emergence of a new illness in our community can be stressful, especially at the beginning of the academic year when students may be sharing spaces with new roommates, suitemates, teammates, and other peers. Resources for stress management and connection with mental health support are available on the Mental Health at Cornell website. In addition to campus resources, anonymous 24/7 talk, text, and chat lines are available to students, including resources specifically for students of color and students who identify as LGBTQI+.