Experts say monkeypox is on the decline globally and in Allegheny County


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The Cathedral of Learning and Litchfield Towers.

By James Paul, Staff Writer

Dr. Ken Ho said while moving forward “there’s no reason to panic” about the potential of a monkeypox pandemic, he still encourages students to assess their own risk and consider getting vaccinated accordingly. 

An unnamed University spokesperson confirmed that there was a second student case of monkeypox on Nov. 1. This second case occurred amid a local and global decline in cases, as reported by the Allegheny County Health Department and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The spokesperson also said the University’s monkeypox protocols meet CDC guidance.

There have been two reported Pitt student cases of monkeypox this term. The individuals were close contacts,” a University spokesperson said. “No faculty cases have been reported.”

Pitt announced the first student case of monkeypox in an Aug. 31 email and said they would not communicate each subsequent case directly to the public. The ACHD reported its first case of monkeypox on June 30 and has since reported 70 confirmed cases. A graph on the ACHD website shows county case rates have drastically declined since their peak of 16 reported cases during the week of July 24, to zero and one per week.

Ho, an assistant professor of medicine with a specialty in infectious diseases, is the site director for a Pitt clinic testing the efficacy of Tecovirimat, a smallpox treatment, against monkeypox. 

“We were seeing so many cases in our clinic a couple of months ago, and that’s gone down virtually to zero now,” Ho said. “And it’s a little bit ironic because we are trying to recruit for a study that is looking at the medication that is currently being used to treat monkeypox.”  

Ho recommended vaccination to those who have sex with multiple partners, men who have sex with men or those who meet partners through online dating apps. Additionally, he suggests vaccination for individuals who have sex in places where monkeypox is known to transmit, such as “bathhouses and campgrounds.”    

Dr. Jay Darr, the associate dean of students for wellness, said in an Aug. 19 email that the most effective means of protection from monkeypox is to avoid contact with those infected and materials that have been contaminated with the virus in addition to washing hands and practicing safe sex.  

Student Health Services offers tests to students who think they may have monkeypox, said Darr. If an individual is confirmed to have been exposed to the virus, SHS will refer them to the ACHD Immunization Clinic, which will determine if they meet the criteria for vaccination. 

While Ho said it’s not entirely known what caused the decline, he cited an online survey conducted by the CDC among the male gay and bisexual community which showed 50% of respondents reported having made behavioral changes to keep themselves safe from monkeypox.

“Whether that was partner-number-reduction or engaging in different practices or what have you, and so I think the logical conclusion is that that probably contributed [to the decline],” Ho said. “But I think that the combined efforts of both the community as well as the medical community to get the vaccine out there to the communities that needed it resulted in declines in incidents.”

According to Dr. Douglass Reed, a professor in the department of immunology, there may be occasional small outbreaks in the future as behavior changes back to pre-outbreak norms, but he doesn’t expect monkeypox to become “sustained like COVID-19.”

“Cases are currently in decline worldwide. In the United States cases have been declining for over a month now,” Dr. Reed said. That’s in part due to vaccinations and the response of at-risk populations to public health messages about changing behavior until the outbreak subsided.”

 Although cases in Allegheny County and the U.S. are largely in check, Reed said he doesn’t want efforts to control the virus to stop.

 “The hope on my part as well as others is that this outbreak will drive efforts to combat this disease in Africa, where it is endemic, which would help to prevent future outbreaks spreading to the rest of the world,” he said.