Emerging Infectious Diseases

Preventing and treating infectious diseases represents an ongoing challenge. We live in balance with microbes and parasites, many of which are capable of causing disease. In addition, emerging infections are caused by antibiotic-resistant microbes or species with recently acquired pathogenic potential. Maintaining awareness and developing effective treatments of these infections require coordinated research efforts.

IGHID faculty researchers are tackling problems such as MRSA, drug-resistant gonnorhea, novel influenza viruses, hospital-acquired infections, hepatitis A and C, and more.



In February 2016, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared Zika an international public health emergency. Since that time, Zika has been identified in 62 countries and territories, including the United States. Most Zika cases worldwide have been transmitted by mosquitoes.

Zika is a flavivirus like dengue and yellow fever virus. Yet unlike other flaviviruses, Zika can be transmitted sexually and from mother to child. Zika has also been linked to a rare, neurological birth defect called microcephaly.

A group of UNC researchers are dedicated to studying the neurological effects of Zika in adults, as well as associated birth defects, including microcephaly. Researchers are also working diligently to develop diagnostic tools and a vaccine.


Clinical Research Management (ClinicalRM), a company based in Ohio with a robust clinical trial presence in Africa, approached UNC Drs. William Fischer and David Wohl about designing a study to test a treatment strategy in Liberia with funding secured from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The trial involved giving people diagnosed with Ebola convalescent plasma, or the blood from survivors, to fight the infection. It was the first trial implemented during an Ebola outbreak and began in December 2014 at ELWA Hospital in Monrovia, Liberia. This trial has since been stopped because the number of new cases of Ebola in Liberia has waned.

Wohl, Fischer and ClinicalRM have now turned their attention to the thousands of Ebola survivors. There has also been a confirmed case of a survivor of Ebola sexually transmitting the virus to a partner. With further funding from the Gates Foundation, they are investigating the ongoing clinical complaints from people who have recovered from Ebola, including muscular pain and ocular issues. The team is also focused on learning whether or not those who have no trace of the virus in their blood stream may still shed the virus elsewhere in the body.

Southeast Regional Center of Excellence in Biodefence and Emerging Infections (SERCEB)

SERCEB is a consortium of investigators at UNC, Duke University, and many other collaborating institutions throughout the southeast. The events of 9/11 and the subsequent anthrax attacks raised intense concern about biological weapons of mass destruction. This led to dedicated funds for biodefense, with emphasis on emerging pathogens and select agents that might be used in attacks on the U.S.
Contact: Fred Sparling

UNC Preparedness and Emergency Response Learning Center (PERLC)

The mission of PERLC is to help the public health workforce respond to bioterrorism and emerging health threats by assessing the competency of that workforce in core public health skills and bioterrorism preparedness, facilitating training, and carrying out applied research on emerging health issues.
Contact: Rachel A. Wilfert

Statewide Program for Infection Control and Epidemiology (SPICE)

SPICE is charged with investigating, preventing and controlling nosocomial infections in hospitals, long-term care facilities, and other medical facilities in the state.
Contact: Bill Rutala

Who’s Involved

Ralph Baric

Natalie Bowman

Myron Cohen

Matthew Collins

Aravinda de Silva

Sylvia Becker-Dreps

Wiliam Fischer

Stanley Lemon

Bill Rutala

Fred Sparling

Jeffrey Stringer

Jenny Ting

David Weber

David Wohl

Recent Publications

Swanstrom JA, Plante JA, Plante KS, Young EF, McGowan E, Gallichotte EN, Widman DG, Heise MT, de Silva AM, Baric RS. Dengue Virus Envelope Dimer Epitope Monoclonal Antibodies Isolated from Dengue Patients Are Protective against Zika Virus (MBio, 2016).

Bolan GA, Sparling PF, Wasserheit JN. The emerging threat of untreatable gonococcal infection (The New England Journal of Medicine, 2012).

Feng Z, Lemon SM. Peek-a-boo: membrane hijacking and the pathogenesis of viral hepatitis (Trends in Microbiology, 2013).

Rusyn I, Lemon SM Mechanisms of HCV-induced liver cancer: What did we learn from in vitro and animal studies? (Cancer Letters, 2013)

Li Y, Masaki T, Lemon SM. miR-122 and the Hepatitis C RNA genome: more than just stability (RNA Biology, 2013).

Yamane D, McGivern DR, Masaki T, Lemon SM. Liver injury and disease pathogenesis in chronic hepatitis C (Current Topics in Microbiology and Immunology, 2013).

Li Y, Masaki T, Yamane D, McGivern DR, Lemon SM. Competing and noncompeting activities of miR-122 and the 5′ exonuclease Xrn1 in regulation of hepatitis C virus replication (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States America, 2013).

Bataller R, Lemon SM. Fueling fibrosis in chronic hepatitis C(Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States America, 2013).

Li K, Lemon SM. Innate immune responses in hepatitis C virus infection (Seminars in Immunopathology, 2013).

Panozzo CA, Becker-Dreps S, Pate V, Jonsson Funk M, Stürmer T, Weber DJ, et al. Patterns of Rotavirus Vaccine Uptake and Use in Privately-Insured US Infants, 2006-2010 (PLoS One, 2013).

McGrath LJ, Cole SR, Kshirsagar AV, Weber DJ, Stürmer T, Brookhart MA. Hospitalization and Skilled Nursing Care are Predictors of Influenza Vaccination Among Patients on Hemodialysis: Evidence of Confounding by Frailty (Medical Care, 2013).

Weber DJ, Consoli SA, Sickbert-Bennett E, Rutala WA. Assessment of a mandatory tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis vaccination requirement on vaccine uptake over time (Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology, 2012).

Rutala WA, Gergen MF, Tande BM, Weber DJ. Rapid hospital room decontamination using ultraviolet (UV) light with a nanostructured UV-reflective wall coating (Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology, 2013).

Sickbert-Bennett EE, Weber DJ. Pitfalls in the development of a standardized measure of influenza vaccination coverage among healthcare personnel (Infection Control and Hospital Epidemoiology, 2013).

Alby K, Daniels LM, Weber DJ, Miller MB. Development of a treatment algorithm for streptococci and enterococci from positive blood cultures identified with the Verigene Gram-positive blood culture assay (Journal of Clinical Microbiology, 2013).

Huslage K, Rutala WA, Gergen MF, Sickbert-Bennett EE, Weber DJ. Microbial assessment of high-, medium-, and low-touch hospital room surfaces (Infection Control and Hospital Epidemoiology, 2013).

Weber DJ, Rutala WA. Self-disinfecting surfaces: review of current methodologies and future prospects (American Journal of Infection Control, 2013).

Weber DJ, Anderson DJ, Sexton DJ, Rutala WA. Role of the environment in the transmission of Clostridium difficile in health care facilities (American Journal of Infection Control, 2013).

Rowe EC, Savage SW, Rutala WA, Weber DJ, Gergen-Teague M, et al.  Economic and microbiologic evaluation of single-dose vial extension for hazardous drugs (American Society of Clinical Oncology, 2012).

Anderson DJ, Pyatt DG, Weber DJ, Rutala WA. Statewide costs of health care-associated infections: estimates for acute care hospitals in North Carolina (American Journal of Infection Control, 2013).

Weber DJ, Anderson D, Rutala WA. The role of the surface environment in healthcare-associated infections (Current Opinion in Infectious Diseases, 2013).

Weber DJ, Rutala WA. Assessing the risk of disease transmission to patients when there is a failure to follow recommended disinfection and sterilization guidelines (American Journal of Infection Control, 2013).

Rutala WA, Weber DJ. New developments in reprocessing semicritical items (American Journal of Infection Control, 2013) .

Rutala WA, Weber DJ. Disinfectants used for environmental disinfection and new room decontamination technology (American Journal of Infection Control, 2013).

Rutala WA, Gergen MF, Weber DJ. Efficacy of different cleaning and disinfection methods against Clostridium difficile spores: importance of physical removal versus sporicidal inactivation (Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology, 2012).