City of Houston to utilize wastewater testing to monitor monkeypox level in community

BySofia Gonzalez via Community Impact Newspaper logo
Saturday, August 6, 2022
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The city of Houston will soon begin monitoring its wastewater system for monkeypox, Mayor Sylvester Turner announced during an Aug. 3 press conference.

HOUSTON, Texas -- The city of Houston will soon begin monitoring its wastewater system for monkeypox, Mayor Sylvester Turner announced during an Aug. 3 press conference.

Turner said the testing will begin within the next few weeks. Money will soon be drawn from the fund balance and brought to Houston City Council to assist the Houston Health Department in the surveillance of monkeypox, he said.

As previously reported by Community Impact Newspaper, wastewater testing has been around for over 80 years, but Houston began to use the technique in 2020 to help gain knowledge of the prevalence of the coronavirus in the community. The HHD, Houston Public Works and Rice University partner to collect data from flushed water at Houston's 39 wastewater treatment facilities.

During the press conference, Houston Emergency Medical Director Dr. David Persse said the COVID-19 monitoring gave hospitals the ability to get three weeks' worth of advanced notice as to what to expect in terms of trends and hospitalizations.

With monkeypox, Persse said the wastewater testing will give the city a better idea of where the virus is geographically. However, since it is a different virus with different pathogens and physiology, he said it will be a learn-as-they-go process.

As of Aug. 4, the Harris County Public Health Department has reported 165 total cases of monkeypox, 143 of which have been reported in the city of Houston and 22 of which have been reported in the rest of Harris County. To combat the spread of the virus, both the county and city are administering vaccines to high-risk groups, such as people who have attended an event or venue with high-risk of exposure to the virus and skin-to-skin contact; people diagnosed with gonorrhea or early syphilis within the past three months; and people who work at a commercial sex venue or other venues where a person has anonymous sex or sex with multiple partners.

Persse said the vaccine is targeted at the "risk-takers."

"Pay attention to your behaviors," Persse said. "If you're out having new sex partners, you're at high risk, but you have control of this."

As previously reported by Community Impact Newspaper, the city and county were given 16,780 additional doses of the Jynneos vaccine to treat rising monkeypox cases. However, Turner said during the press conference that more vaccines are needed.

If the supply does not keep up with the demand and numbers begin to double, Turner said he will look into declaring a public health emergency. As of right now, he said such a declaration is not needed.

"We are looking at the numbers every single day," Turner said. "We are not there yet."

Additional information on monkeypox, how to test for it, and how to get a vaccination can be found here.

For more, continue to our ABC13 partner at Community Impact Newspaper.