A 29-year-old Durham man who has struggled for nearly two weeks to find a monkeypox test is questioning the willingness of medical providers, state and local health officials and the federal government to fight the growing outbreak.
The man was informed of his positive monkeypox test on Monday. He spoke to WRAL News on condition of anonymity.
“It was awful,” he said.
The man said he started using the phone on June 28 after developing mouth sores five days earlier.
“[I] said, ‘Hey, I think I might have monkeypox,'” he said. “‘What can I do?'”
The man’s primary care physician at Duke Family Medicine Center in Durham and the Durham County Health Department told him they would not offer monkeypox testing. Over the next week he developed a 103 degree fever.
“The fever is the worst fever I’ve had in my life,” he said. “The chills, the night sweats.
“I couldn’t eat because it was impossible to open my mouth to put a forkful of food in my mouth. It was so painful.”
During two urgent nursing visits and a trip to the emergency room, he said doctors only tested him for more common sexually transmitted infections.
“We are just emerging from two years of a global pandemic and I don’t feel we are prepared for the next one,” the man said.
The North Carolina Department of Health has identified 11 cases of monkeypox in the state in the past three weeks. The state does not release a public breakdown of cases by county to protect the identities of people with monkeypox.
When a case of monkeypox is diagnosed in a North Carolina resident, the NCDHHS works closely with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, local health authorities and health care providers to identify and notify individuals who may be infected with an infectious individual have been in contact and, in order to make an assessment, the risk level of each individual contact.
“This is a big deal and we’re already lagging behind,” said UNC Health Dr. David Wohl. “It’s true. We haven’t learned our lesson well enough from COVID-19 and how hard it has been and it’s been a struggle to get things working, including testing.”
Wohl said there isn’t enough testing and not nearly enough vaccine for gay and bisexual men at highest risk.
WRAL News asked Wohl why the man wasn’t tested for monkeypox even though he was tested for STIs.
“Good question. I think it’s because of the availability of the tests,” Wohl said. “I think it’s also because of people’s sensitivity that monkeypox exists.
“It’s still not coming out as much as we need it to be for a lot of providers that this needs to be on your radar.”
From Tuesday, doctors have to make a phone call before every monkeypox test. A state epidemiologist must give permission. Then doctors take 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 speed up the process.
“The beauty of LabCorp is that you don’t have to call the state to get approval to test, and you can use whatever criteria you as a vendor find best,” 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 of his insurance network. There, medics were ready to test him. On Monday he tested positive for monkeypox, more than two weeks after he first developed symptoms. The man had to isolate for two more weeks, meaning a month since his exposure.
“I think my frustration is on all sorts of levels,” the man told WRAL News. “Every step of the process I had to fight to get a test for monkeypox.”
There is a monkeypox vaccine 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, emergency care and infectious disease clinics can collect samples for monkeypox.
“Over the past few days, we have taken steps to ensure employees and providers are more aware of monkeypox symptoms, associated risk factors for exposure, and processes for specimen collection and testing,” Duke officials said in a Explanation.