NEWS BLOG from UPMC and the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences

Archive for January, 2016

What We Currently Know About Zika Virus

beigi-richard-hiPeople in the United States are growing concerned about the spread of Zika virus. Zika cannot be contracted through casual contact, or through air, food, or water. Humans can be infected with Zika virus through bites from an infected Aedes species of mosquitos or through unprotected sexual contact with an infected individual. No infected mosquitoes have been found in the continental United States yet and Pennsylvania isn’t home to the Aedes species.

The most common symptoms of Zika are fever, rash and conjunctivitis (red eyes). The illness is usually mild and symptoms typically last for several days to a week. There have been reports of microcephaly, a serious neurological birth defect in which a baby’s head is significantly smaller than normal, born to mothers who were infected with Zika virus while pregnant.

The virus has spread to countries in South America and the Caribbean, leading health officials to warn pregnant women against traveling to those areas. If travel cannot be avoided, pregnant women should talk to their doctors and  follow strict precautions to avoid mosquito bites. Any woman of child bearing age who is planning a pregnancy should consult with her doctor before travel to these areas and follow strategies to prevent mosquito bites. Updated guidelines from the CDC advise that pregnant women should avoid sexual contact or use condom protection with an individual who may be infected, or is at risk for infection based on his travel history, in order to prevent transmission of the Zika virus.

To date, no locally transmitted Zika cases have been reported in the continental United States and there is little risk of acquiring Zika in Pennsylvania at this time. UPMC is following all guidelines and recommendations from the CDC, the Pennsylvania Department of Health and the Allegheny County Health Department. Pregnant women who have a history of travel to affected areas, or have a sexual partner who has traveled to a high-risk area, should contact their personal obstetrician or midwives for advice and testing.

For more information on Zika affected areas, prevention and the travel alert for people traveling to regions and certain countries where Zika virus transmission is ongoing, visit:

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UPCI, UPMC CancerCenter Join National Call for More HPV Vaccinations to Prevent Cancer

ThinkstockPhotos-497026980The University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, a partner with UPMC CancerCenter, has joined  with all National Cancer Institute-designated cancer centers today to endorse a joint statement urging parents, young adults and physicians to increase rates of the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination to prevent cancer.

Below is the full consensus statement:

Approximately 79 million people in the United States are currently infected with a human papillomavirus (HPV) according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and 14 million new infections occur each year. Several types of high-risk HPV are responsible for the vast majority of cervical, anal, oropharyngeal (middle throat) and other genital cancers. The CDC also reports that each year in the U.S., 27,000 men and women are diagnosed with an HPV-related cancer, which amounts to a new case every 20 minutes. Even though many of these HPV-related cancers are preventable with a safe and effective vaccine, HPV vaccination rates across the U.S. remain low.

Together we, the National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated Cancer Centers, recognize these low rates of HPV vaccination as a serious public health threat. HPV vaccination represents a rare opportunity to prevent many cases of cancer that is tragically underused. As national leaders in cancer research and clinical care, we are compelled to jointly issue this call to action.

According to a 2015 CDC report, only 40 percent of girls and 21 percent of boys in the U.S. are receiving the recommended three doses of the HPV vaccine. This falls far short of the goal of 80 percent by the end of this decade, set forth by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service’s Healthy People 2020 mission. Furthermore, U.S. rates are significantly lower than those of countries such as Australia (75 percent), the United Kingdom (84-92 percent) and Rwanda (93 percent), which have shown that high vaccination rates are currently achievable. (more…)

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UPMC Surgeons Remove Head and Neck Tumors With New Robot

Head and neck surgeons at UPMC are the first in the country to use the Flex® Robotic System, a snake-like device, to remove masses from otherwise hard-to-reach places in the oral cavity and throat. The surgeons have used the system for several cases since September, and all patients have done well after their procedures.

Conventional surgery to access certain sites, such as the base of the tongue, usually requires large incisions in the neck, explained Umamaheswar Duvvuri, M.D., Ph.D., director of robotic head and neck surgery at UPMC. Lasers can be inserted through the mouth to burn away tissue, but it can be challenging for the surgeon to get a clear line of sight to the lesion using these straight instruments.

“This is the first non-linear robotic system,” Dr. Duvvuri said. “Its flexibility allows us to literally turn corners to view the lesion and position our instruments in ways that were not possible before. We expect this will allow patients to have a quick recovery with fewer or no incisions at all.”

The Flex robot, which is made by Medrobotics, was initially invented at Carnegie Mellon University, and Dr. Duvvuri and University of Pittsburgh experts helped develop it for surgical uses. The articulated scope can twist and turn to get into the right spot, where it can be “parked” to hold a rigid shape at the operating site. The surgeon can then insert flexible instruments along the scope to excise a mass.

“This is really the next wave of progress in surgery,” Dr. Duvvuri said. “Imagine being able to reach a lung tumor through a small incision in the neck, or removing a large mass in the colon without going through the abdomen. This technology has a very bright future.”

He and a patient talk about the new device in this video.

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‘Living Wall’ to be Planted at UPMC Shadyside ED

479724364Visiting an Emergency Department (ED) can be an unsettling experience. However, that anxiety can be eased by improving the surroundings for patients and families. That’s the philosophy behind the “living wall” project near the ED at UPMC Shadyside.

When patients and families currently glance outside the ED windows, they see a collection of pipes, vents, and other mechanical equipment used to run the hospital’s cooling and heating systems. The industrial equipment will soon be hidden behind a 12-foot-high “living wall.” Ferns and hardy hostas, heuchera, and brunnera will fill some of the planters, while Creeping Jenny and dwarf evergreen shrubs will occupy others. Seasonal plants and flowers can be added for color and variety.

Construction of the living wall, which is funded by a generous donation from the Shadyside Hospital Foundation, should be completed in the spring. The wall will include a “fertigation” system to irrigate and fertilize the planter boxes. Lighting will be installed under the boxes so the plants can be seen at night.

“It really is exciting to see how we can use an architectural element to transform an industrial space into an area that will be soothing to the senses and help reduce stress and tension,” said Dennis Derringer, project manager.

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Volunteer Magee Knitters Make Sure ‘No Head Goes Hatless’


On most Fridays at Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC,  Dena Chottiner arrives with bags of yarn and other supplies and settles into a corner of the hospital’s lobby. She is joined by several local women, who surround their sitting area with yellow caution tape and a sign that says “Caution: Knitters at Work.”


Chottiner founded the group, which volunteers their time and knitting talents to make fuzzy hats for cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy and newborn babies who just  need a little extra warmth.The women chat away as they knit hat after hat by hand or on special round looms. View the video above for a closer look at this special group.

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