As monkey disease numbers rise in North Carolina, UNC is doing research and taking action to flatten the curve.
UNC is one of three academic medical centers in the United States that conducts monkey disease research. According to media relations, Campus Health is designed to identify symptoms and diagnose when clinically indicated.
Although Campus Health is approved by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services as a monkey vaccine provider, they have not yet received any vaccine doses due to supply chain issues, according to media reports.
As a “think tank” and medical center, Dr. David Wall, a professor of medicine in UNCC’s Department of Infectious Diseases, thinks the university needs to take a more immediate and big view. Wohl knows about pandemic crises around the world, researching treatments for Ebola and other diseases.
“I know we’re responding to monkey disease, but what is the next big thing going to be and where is it going to come from? What can we do now so that it doesn’t end up like a university?” Dr. Wohl asks.
What is monkey disease?
Monkey disease was first identified in primates in 1958 and is endemic in West and Central Africa, said Dr. David Weber, professor of medicine, pediatrics and epidemiology at UNC.
Dr. Myron Cohen, a professor of medicine, microbiology and immunology and epidemiology at UNC, said in the past that the disease had been observed sporadically, perhaps primarily through animal-to-human transmission.
Dr. Cohen said the virus is transmitted through close physical contact with infected people, usually through prolonged skin-to-skin contact, typically during sexual intercourse. However, it is not a sexually transmitted disease.
“You can get it through sex, but it’s not the sex that gives you it—it’s the skin-to-skin contact,” says Dr. Weber.
Additional concerns have been raised about transmission through inanimate objects or through the air, but there is insufficient evidence to support this, Dr. Cohen said.
“The CDC is saying, ‘We don’t understand the rules,’ and UNC Hospitals is saying, ‘We don’t understand the rules,'” Dr. Cohen said. “So we use a lot of precautions to prevent further spread, and among those precautions, we try not to contaminate inanimate objects with monkeypox.
Monkey disease in America
According to the CDC, 99 percent of cases of syphilis in the U.S. occur in men, and 94 percent report male-to-male sex or intimate contact shortly before they develop symptoms. However, Dr. Wohls believes that the spread will begin to be seen in other populations.
“I think it’s foolish and narrow-minded to think that this is going to be something we see among men who have sex with men,” he said. “(Monkey disease) is clearly transmitted through close and intimate contact.
“This means that cis-women are infected by men. This means that some women can transmit it to other women. This means that athletes can transmit it to each other. This is the right way to get the virus. Human-to-human transmission.”
Symptoms appear within three weeks of exposure to the virus and include fever, chills, headache, muscle aches, fatigue, swollen lymph nodes, clear or pus-filled bumps and rashes.
Dr. Weber is helping lead campus health faculty members in an upcoming national clinical trial of Tecovirmat — a treatment for the monkeypox virus.
Treatment of the virus
Vaccines are currently available for people known or suspected to be at risk for monkeypox, as well as for men who have sex with men or transgender people with a history of multiple or unidentified sexual partners. Certain health care workers designated by public health officials are also eligible, according to Campus Health.
Anyone who meets one of the eligibility criteria listed above can request a vaccination at the Durham County Department of Public Health by calling 919-560-9217.
“We have a lot of tools at our disposal and we’re very prepared to detect infections and fight infections,” Dr. Cohen said. “We don’t think this will be common among college students. We do not expect this to be a common infection. And the way people can reduce their risk of infection is through fairly intimate behavior.
Campus health a Monkey disease FAQ More information about the virus.
Health officials and researchers recommend paying more attention to the source of these infections than to “outbreak events” like Ebola or monkeypox, Dr. Wall said.
“If more people had been protected from monkeypox, we would never have had an event like this that started to spread around the world and cause all this trouble,” he said. “So I think we have to realize that we have a global responsibility as a university.”
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