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No monkeypox in New Hanover yet, but the county is prepared

Monkeypox was spread by prairie dogs in the U.S. in 2003. Above: The prairie dog Chuckles was a pet belonging to Tammy and Steve Kautzer and their 3-year-old daughter, of Dorchester, Wisconsin. They caught monkeypox from another pet prairie dog that since died.
Mike Roemer
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Getty Images
Monkeypox was spread by prairie dogs in the U.S. in 2003. Above: The prairie dog Chuckles was a pet belonging to Tammy and Steve Kautzer and their 3-year-old daughter, of Dorchester, Wisconsin. They caught monkeypox from another pet prairie dog that since died.

The world is facing another global health emergency, according to the World Health Organization, with Monkeypox infections rising in the United States even as the covid pandemic continues.

There are 20 cases of monkeypox in North Carolina so far, with no confirmed cases yet in New Hanover County. Still, the pandemic response team is getting ready in case that changes, particularly because the World Health Organization has declared it a global health emergency.

Even so, NHC epidemiologist Ian Appling says Monkeypox is not a major threat to the general population.

"Monkeypox has a fairly low R0 ratio, which is the reproductive rate of a virus," he said. "Much lower than the level for the current variants of Covid-19, and lower than Smallpox. While the virus may also spread through respiratory droplets, according to recent studies, it seems that direct contact with infectious rashes or bodily fluids are the main vector."

In some ways, the spread of the disease in the United States has resembled a sexually transmitted illness, because it has stayed largely in the community of men who have sex with men. But that's incidental, Appling said.

"It is not solely something that can be spread in the MSM community. It is something that we have seen a significant spread throughout the endemic countries," he said. In Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo, and other areas that have seen a rise in infections, it's the entire population being impacted, regardless of age, gender, or sexuality.

Surface transfers are possible, but the virus only remains potent for 10 to 15 days. But, it's easily disinfected with household cleaners.

The state has provided New Hanover County with a limited number of monkeypox vaccines. The county's pandemic ops team is sharing them with other health departments in the Cape Fear Region as needed, but they're currently limited to a specific population who are eligible.

That includes:

  • Certain healthcare workers and public health workers.
  • Those who've had close physical contact with a positive case of monkeypox in the last 14 days
  • MSM who've had sexual contact with multiple trans or male partners in the last 90 days
  • MSM who've been diagnosed with an STI in the last 90 days.
  • MSM who are taking PrEP.

To determine your own eligibility, call Pandemic Operations at 910-798-6800.
Correction: Appling says further research has shown Monkeypox lasts on a surface for 10-15 days, not 24 hours. But it can be easily disinfected with household antimicrobial cleaners.

Kelly Kenoyer is an Oregonian transplant new to the East Coast. She attended University of Oregon’s School of Journalism as an undergraduate, and later received a Master’s in Journalism from University of Missouri- Columbia. Contact her on Twitter @Kelly_Kenoyer or by email: KKenoyer@whqr.org.