York County prepares as monkeypox spreads across the state
Local health officials are closely monitoring the spread of monkeypox, a once little-known disease, as case counts rise across Pennsylvania.
Pennsylvania reported 371 cases statewide as of Monday, part of the nationwide total of 14,115. Currently, the state has the eighth highest number of cases across the country. So far, the data hasn't been broken down by county.
"We have shared the latest information from state and federal authorities with our health care providers," said UPMC infectious disease specialist Dr. John Goldman. "Should one of our clinicians suspect a patient has monkeypox, we will immediately consult with our public health partners."
Until this year, monkeypox was most commonly associated with outbreaks in remote parts of central and western Africa, typically near rainforests. This summer, however, the disease has spread around the globe.
Despite the relatively low case counts, the disease is already on the radar of local health systems. Health officials point out that the precautions for monkeypox are similar to those for COVID.
"It is still unclear how widespread this outbreak will become," said Dr. Eugene Curley, a WellSpan Health infectious disease expert. "The virus can be spread through large respiratory droplets, close skin-to-skin contact with rash, contact with objects/materials that an infected patient has used (eating utensils, cups, clothing, bedding) and infected animals."
Likewise, Curley said it's important for people to wash their hands regularly, to have rashes checked out quickly and to avoid close contact with people who have a rash that looks like monkeypox.
The disease has been stereotyped by some as a disease that primarily affects LGBTQ people. While monkeypox can be spread by close contact during sex, experts say it's not a sexually transmitted disease. It can be spread through any close contact for a prolonged period of time.
Rainbow Rose Center President Tesla Taliaferro said it's important to make sure information that's distributed to the public doesn't perpetuate such stereotypes.
"We are working with our local medical providers, including at WellSpan and UPMC and the local York City health bureau, to make sure that the information being put out to the public is accurate and not discriminatory," Taliaferro said.
Avoiding stigma similar to HIV and AIDS is critical, Taliaferro said.
That comes as the Pennsylvania Department of Health confirmed that a student at the Penn State University Park campus tested positive for monkeypox. According to the university, the student tested positive Aug. 13. The student lives off campus and is currently isolating and recovering.
Nationally, U.S. health officials have approved a plan that would stretch the monkeypox vaccine into smaller doses as a way to combat the limited supply.
According to the Pennsylvania Department of Health, the monkeypox vaccine will be distributed to public health departments that are seeing a large number of people at high risk for the disease.
Right now, Taliaferro said the closest place he's aware of to get the vaccine is Philadelphia.
"We need to make sure that the information that's getting out to the public is related to the disease itself and not a suggestion that it's just impacting a minority group in the community," he said. "We need to stay on the facts of the matter: how people can get monkeypox, what they can do to avoid monkeypox, what to do when they think they may have been exposed to monkeypox."
— Reach Matt Enright via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter at @Matthew_Enright.