University working with health department to protect against monkeypox threat


As Pitt enters its third fall semester since the COVID-19 pandemic changed the landscape, monkeypox has emerged as the latest contagious disease posing a concern for 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 on Aug. 19 providing information and outlining Pitt’s approach to monkeypox, Jay Darr, associate dean of students for wellness, said Student Health Services provides testing for monkeypox and will arrange vaccinations for individuals who meet specific close-contact criteria. The vaccine can prevent 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, spokesperson for Pitt Student Affairs, told the University Times. “Each medical situation is unique, and our approach is different and informed for each one.”

A contagious disease caused by orthopoxvirus, the same family of viruses that causes smallpox, monkeypox symptoms 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 by contact with contaminated materials like clothing or bedding. It also can be spread by respiratory droplets during prolonged face-to-face contact. For further information, visit the CDC webpage on monitoring for the virus.  

The health department recorded Allegheny County’s first case of monkeypox on June 30, with 51 cases reported as of Aug. 24. Four cases were reported the week of Aug. 21, and five the week of Aug. 14 to 20.

To effectively avoid contracting monkeypox, the health department and Student Health Services advises to:

  • 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 align with all guidance set forth by the Allegheny County Health Department and the Commonwealth Department of Health to advance coordination of care and support for students,” Fisher said.

Monkeypox has an average incubation period of six to 13 days where the person does not have symptoms and is not contagious, Darr’s statement said. Most patients have mild illness and require no treatment. There is currently no treatment specifically approved 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 immunization clinic, which will determine if they meet 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 for expanding vaccine eligibility and clinic sites as it obtains more vaccines from the federal government.

Anyone on campus who tests positive will need to isolate, 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 therefore controlled by and distributed directly from the CDC to health departments. It is currently reserved for patients with severe symptoms. Patients may be referred to the ACHD for consideration of treatment. 

The White House declared monkeypox a public health emergency, Darr’s statement explained, to facilitate access to emergency funds, allow health agencies to collect data about cases and vaccinations, accelerate vaccine distribution, and make it easier to prescribe treatment.  

Shannon O. Wells is a writer for the University Times. Reach him at


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