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'It's been terrible': Durham monkeypox patient struggled to get tested for virus

The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services has identified 11 cases of monkeypox in the last three weeks within the state.

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Joe Fisher
, WRAL reporter

A 29-year-old Durham man who struggled for nearly two weeks to find a monkeypox test is questioning the readiness of medical providers, state and county public health officials and the federal government in combating the growing outbreak.

The man was notified of his positive monkeypox test on Monday. He spoke to WRAL News on the condition of anonymity.

“It’s been terrible,” he said.

The man said he started making phone calls on June 28 after he had developed mouth sores five days before.

“[I] said, ‘Hey, I think maybe I have monkeypox,’” he said. “’What do I do?’”

A 29-year-old Durham man is questioning Durham County and the state's preparedness for monkeypox after he tested positive for the virus. WRAL News is choosing not to identify the man.

The man’s primary care doctor at Duke Family Medicine Center in Durham and the Durham County Health Department told him they weren’t offering monkeypox testing. During the next week, he developed a 103-degree fever.

“The fever is the worst fever I have had in my life,” he said. “The chills, the night sweats.

“I could not eat because opening my mouth to put a fork full of food in my mouth was impossible. It was so painful.”

During two urgent care visits and a trip to the emergency room, he said doctors only tested him for more common sexually transmitted infections.

“We are emerging from two years of a global pandemic, and I don’t feel like we are prepared for the next one,” the man said.

The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services has identified 11 cases of monkeypox in the last three weeks within the state. The state does not publicly provide a county-by-county breakdown of where the cases are to protect the identity of the people with monkeypox.

When a monkeypox case is identified in a North Carolina resident, the NCDHHS works closely with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, local health departments and health care providers to identify and notify individuals who may have been in contact with an infectious person and to assess each individual contact’s level of risk.

“This is a big deal, and we are already behind,” said UNC Health Dr. David Wohl. “It’s true. We didn’t learn our lesson well enough from COVID-19 and how hard it was, and a struggle to get things up and running, including testing.”

Wohl said there’s not enough testing, and not nearly enough vaccine for gay and bisexual men at the highest risk.

WRAL News asked Wohl why the man was not tested for monkeypox despite getting tested for STIs.

“Good question. I think it’s the availability of the tests,” Wohl said. “I think it’s also sensitivity of people that monkeypox is around.

“It’s still not getting out as much as we need it to, to a lot of providers that this has to be on your radar.”

As of Tuesday, doctors are required to make a phone call before every monkeypox test. A state epidemiologist must give permission. Then, doctors collect a sample by swabbing a patient’s lesions. The process can take hours, and the results can take up to two days.

However, a new monkeypox test from LabCorp could expedite the process.

“The beauty of LabCorp is you don’t need to call the state for permission to test, and you can use the criteria you feel is best as a provider,” Wohl said.

On July 8, the Durham man traveled to UNC Health in Pittsboro, which is about 40 minutes from his home and is outside his insurance network. There, medical professionals were willing to test him. On Monday, the test came positive for monkeypox, more than two weeks after he first developed symptoms. The man had to isolate for two more weeks, which will mark one month since his exposure.

“I think my frustration is at every possible level,” the man told WRAL News. “At every step of the process, I have had to fight to get a test for monkeypox.”

There is a vaccine for monkeypox that should be given within 14 days of exposure to the virus. On Tuesday afternoon, the Durham County Health Department vaccinated its first four people.

On Tuesday, Duke Health said all primary care, urgent care and infectious disease clinics are able to collect specimens for monkeypox.

"In recent days, we have taken steps to ensure that staff and providers are more fully aware of the symptoms of monkeypox, the associated risk factors for exposure and the processes for specimen collection and testing," Duke officials said in a statement.

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