By SHANNON O. WELLS
As Pitt enters its third fall semester since the COVID-19 pandemic changed the landscape, monkeypox has emerged as the latest contagious disease to pose a concern to campus health and the general public. Pitt and Student Health Services are collaborating with the Allegheny County Health Department to monitor monkeypox cases locally and the potential impact on the region.
In a statement to the community Aug. 19 providing information and outlining Pitt’s approach to monkeypox, Jay Darr, associate dean of students for wellness, said Student Health Services offers monkeypox testing and will arrange vaccinations for individuals meeting specific close contact criteria. . The vaccine can prevent the disease if given within four days of exposure to the virus.
“We approach all public health concerns in partnership with our medical experts to ensure the Pitt community is informed,” Janine Fisher, spokeswoman for Pitt Student Affairs, told the University Times. “Each medical situation is unique, and our approach is different and informed for each.”
A contagious disease caused by orthopoxvirus, the same family of viruses that causes smallpox, the symptoms of monkeypox are like those of smallpox, but milder and rarely fatal, Darr’s statement explained.
Human-to-human transmission occurs primarily through direct contact with infected lesions or fluids, or through contact with contaminated materials such as clothing or bedding. It can also be spread by respiratory droplets during prolonged face-to-face contact. For more information, visit the CDC’s website on monitoring for the virus.
The health department recorded the first case of monkeypox in Allegheny County on June 30, with 51 cases reported as of August 24. Four cases were reported the week of August 21 and five the week of August 14 to 20.
To effectively avoid contracting monkeypox, the health department and Student Health Services advise:
Avoid contact with people who may be infected.
Avoid contact with bedding and other materials contaminated with the virus.
Avoid skin-to-skin contact with someone with a rash.
Use personal protective equipment when caring for infected persons.
Wash your hands with soap and water.
Practice safer sex.
“We adhere to and comply with all guidelines set forth by the Allegheny County Department of Health and the Commonwealth Department of Health to advance the coordination of care and support for students,” Fisher said.
Monkeypox has an average incubation period of six to 13 days where a person has no symptoms and is not contagious, Darr said in a statement. Most patients have mild disease and do not require treatment. There is currently no approved treatment specifically for monkeypox virus infections.
To make an appointment for a test, call Student Health Services at 412-383-1800.
Student Health will refer those with a confirmed exposure to monkeypox to the health department’s immunization clinic, which will determine if they meet the criteria for the JYNNEOS vaccine, Darr’s statement said. Eligibility is determined on a case-by-case basis through health department case investigators. The Allegheny County Health Department is developing a plan with the CDC and the Pennsylvania Department of Health to expand vaccine eligibility and clinic locations as it receives more vaccines from the federal government.
Anyone on campus who tests positive will have to be isolated, Janine Fisher of Student Affairs said, adding that Pitt has isolation housing available.
The health department has a limited supply of TPOXX (tecovirimat), which is still listed as an investigational drug and is therefore controlled and distributed directly by the CDC to health departments. It is currently reserved for patients with severe symptoms. Patients may be referred to ACHD for consideration of treatment.
The White House declared monkeypox a public health emergency, Darr’s statement explained, to facilitate access to emergency funding, allow health agencies to collect data on cases and vaccinations, expedite vaccine distribution and make easier to prescribe treatment.
Shannon O. Wells is a writer for the University Times. Get it at [email protected].
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