Symptoms of monkeypox are quite severe: “It’s become very real, very quickly”

 Symptoms of monkeypox are quite severe: “It’s become very real, very quickly”

Photo courtesy of Matt Ford

“It’s become very real, very quickly.”

Matt Ford, 30, was only dimly aware of monkeypox, a viral illness that wasn’t really discussed in the United States until this year, until Friday, June 17.

Ford was aware that cases of monkeypox were spreading across the nation at the time, but he never considered if he or anybody he knew would be impacted. But on June 17, Ford received a call from a friend who was suffering from monkeypox, and he found that he had most likely come into contact with the illness through skin-to-skin contact.

Ford later found he had monkeypox after testing positive, and she has since used Twitter and TikTok to warn others about how dangerous the illness can be. Read Ford’s account below, as told to Melissa Matthews, associate director of health at SELF. The interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Initially, I was in shock when I got off the phone. I knew monkeypox was happening in the world, but that was the first time I heard of anyone I knew coming into contact with it. My first thought was, Crap, I’m supposed to go to New York for Pride the following weekend; if I have monkeypox, this is going to derail weeks of my life.

I got off the phone and did a full-body scan, noticing some spots in the underwear zone. They looked exactly like the pictures of monkeypox on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website. They resemble pimples or ingrown hairs at first, but the spots looked just different enough that I knew they weren’t pimples.

That night I started researching symptoms hoping that my case wouldn’t be so bad. But starting the next day, I began having intense flu-like symptoms that included a fever, full-body chills, and a cough. The California Department of Public Health called me that Saturday and started collecting a lot of information about me.

They asked about the specifics of how I could have been exposed, and if I could have exposed anyone else. They wanted to know if I had traveled recently. From that day on, a nurse called me daily to ask about my symptoms. But I wasn’t given any advice on how to actually manage my symptoms.

Things really ramped up over that weekend. I was sweating a bunch to the point where my sheets were soaked. The spots started appearing on other parts of my body, including my face. I had a virtual consultation with my doctor’s office that weekend and went for an in-person check-up on Monday.

The office took an abundance of caution when I came in. I was asked to enter through a back entrance, and the doctor was in full COVID-19-style protective gear. She wore a full gown with a plastic covering over it, a mask, protective eyewear, and gloves. The doctor looked at my spots visually, asked about my symptoms, and took swabs from two different areas.

At the time, I wasn’t in a bunch of pain yet, so I was advised to just take over-the-counter pain medication. There wasn’t a lot of information given, and I remember the general vibe being, “We’re finding out about this at the same time you are.”

My symptoms quickly progressed after I left the doctor’s office. Between that Monday night and Thursday, June 23, the lesions in my sensitive areas and underwear zone became really painful to the point where I couldn’t sleep.

I’d describe the sensation as a dull, chronic pain that became jolts of intense pain if I moved the wrong way. I am not sure I’ve experienced anything quite like it. The spots that continue to appear in places outside of the initially infected area aren’t painful—I’d describe them as more irritable and itchy.

On June 23, I went back to the doctor’s office and was prescribed narcotic painkillers to help me sleep in addition to another oral medication to help with the itching. The doctor also recommended using Vaseline on any really painful lesions, which actually proved to be pretty helpful.

A few days after my first doctor’s appointment, I received my positive monkeypox test results and a letter from the department of health in the mail informing me to isolate myself. The letter said I have to isolate until I am recovered, which is defined as having every single spot scabbed over and healed, so I only have fresh, healthy skin underneath. Now, 13 days after my friend called me to tell me I was exposed, I feel almost completely back to normal.

The flu-like symptoms are completely gone, and I’m just dealing with the spots now. Thankfully most of the spots have already become pustules and scabbed over. It seems like I’m on the tail end of things now, but even in the last few days, I have had new spots pop up. In total, I counted more than 25 lesions all over my body.

Since I spoke out about having monkeypox, a lot of my friends messaged me saying they had it too. It’s become very real, very quickly, in my various networks. To people who don’t take this seriously, I get it. I used to be like you too, but my views have changed immensely.

You absolutely do not want this. Even a mild case is super disruptive. I’m urging people to take this seriously and to get vaccinated if they can. In the meantime, try to be cautious about who you have prolonged skin-to-skin or face-to-face contact with, but also know that there is no reason to feel shame if you get monkeypox. You haven’t done anything wrong by getting this.

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