If you don’t live under a rock you’ve probably heard murmurings about the new viral outbreak, monkeypox.
A month and a half ago I explained to my kids that monkeypox was a new STI (sexually transmitted infection) going around, which was mostly infecting gay men. It seemed like an easy way to remind them that sexual activity comes with risks.
But then I caught it.
Well, at least, I think I did.
Shortly after a trip to the mountains where we stayed in a rather charming little hostel with about 50 thru-hikers from the Colorado Trail, I found a strange bug bite on my leg. Then another, and another. They weren’t quite like mosquito bites because they popped and flatted out very easily. But then they scabbed over and remained for an unexpectedly long time. I googled “bug bite blisters” and changed my sheets in case a spider was hiding out.
My sores (I choose to call them “spots” in an attempt to be less gross) multiplied quickly, and I started asking my friends what they thought could be happening. When one friend said “monkeypox” I thought she was crazy. How would I have gotten monkeypox, married and monogamous?
I searched out every alternative. Could it be shingles? A fungal infection? MRSA? But I kept coming back to monkeypox, those little whitehead blisters that pop easily and then scab up, which spread like wildfire on my skin, which I seem to have caught by sitting on a public chair in shorts.
I was tested 11 days ago at an urgent care clinic. Some cities have monkeypox testing clinics, but Colorado Springs doesn’t. The urgent care said that they would see me for a consultation. They didn’t expect to test me for monkeypox. I didn’t fit the demographic. But when the PA at the clinic saw the spots on my legs, he immediately said, “That is very concerning. I will be testing you for monkeypox,” and left to put on PPE for every further interaction with me. He took some samples and told me to “Isolate, isolate, isolate.” At the end of the appointment, he led me out the back door of the clinic so I wouldn’t have any contact with anyone else.
I came home, moved full-time into my bedroom, and have been waiting here ever since…without any test results in sight.
Eleven days. Eleven days during which my spots became more painful and doubled, tripled in number. Eleven days of no touch from another human being. Eleven days of listening to my family interacting in the living room twenty feet away. Eleven days of missing work…church…hangouts with friends. Eleven days of calling the lab and begging for results, only to have them tell me I’ll “get them when I get them.”
There is an antiviral medication that has been known to quickly manage this infection, but I can’t get it until I have results. And even then it will be a complicated process and I expect to encounter red tape.
Why are they (the media, the CDC) acting like this is just a disease for sexually promiscuous gay men?
Why isn’t a big city like Colorado Springs better equipped to handle this crisis?
When I shared my story on Facebook, I received many personal messages asking about monkeypox, such as:
Someone came into my office with what looked like a scab on the back of her thigh along with other small scabs or ingrown hairs. Could that be monkeypox?
Someone had a strange scab on the back of their neck. Could that be monkeypox?
I walked around town with monkeypox for 2 weeks before I realized what it was because I didn’t think I could catch it. How many others do you suppose are doing the same?
My Facebook Post About Monkeypox
The officials don’t know much yet about this disease.
People have a lot of questions and it doesn’t seem like we’re getting straight answers.
Well, let me give it to you straight; all in one place. I researched online and contacted others with confirmed monkeypox to discuss their experiences. This is what I’ve learned.
(NOTE: I’m not a doctor or any sort of medical professional. I will link resources below to share professional opinions, but much of what I share below will be my own opinion based on my experience.)
Is Monkeypox Fatal?
What Does It Feel Like?
Some symptoms may include swollen lymph nodes, fever, chills, muscle aches, fatigue, or respiratory symptoms, such as cough, sneezing, or runny nose.
The most obvious sign is a rash, or sores that may look like whiteheads or blisters, followed by scabs. They may be painful or itchy.1 Some people get hundreds of spots, and some get only a couple. The average story in America in this latest outbreak seems to be about 30 spots.
Personally, I had a little chest congestion and a light cough. It was only enough to make me think, “Am I getting sick?” After my spots started appearing I had some runny nose and sneezing.
I have had about 40 spots on my right leg and bikini area, with one spot on my arm, and two in my armpit.
My spots have mostly been small to medium, and feel like an uncomfortable, itchy blister. I had a couple very large, painful ones. The pain lasted about 6 days, but I believe I’ve learned how to minimize the pain. (More on that below.)
Who Can Get Monkeypox and How Is It Spread?
Anyone can get monkeypox. Children under the age of 8 tend to get more extreme cases, but this most recent outbreak has been 99% adult men. As of the writing of this post, seven children have tested positive for monkeypox in the U.S. Those cases were in California, Maine, Florida, Indiana, and Washington D.C.
Scientists are still researching how monkeypox is spread. As a variation of smallpox, it is spread primarily through skin-to-lesion contact. Infectious substances from a lesion may also remain active on a surface, such as a chair, or fabric, such as a towel or a t-shirt, as long as 15 days! It is still unknown to what extent monkeypox can be transmitted through body fluids. (See “Transmission” and “How It Spreads.”)
To share my own experience, I did not have any known physical, skin-to-skin contact with someone who had monkeypox. On the other hand, I hugged my kids and had intimate contact with my husband before I suspected that I had monkeypox, but none of them have contracted the infection.
But an important thing that I’ve noticed is that when any part of my body touched a monkeypox spot, I developed a spot in that location as well. I consistently developed duplicate spots that matched up where my body bends, such as the inside of my knee, my armpit, and my abdomen and upper thigh. I also developed spots everywhere that I shave – my leg, my bikini area, and my armpits – indicating that the infection was spread by my razor. In fact, every spot on my body can be traced back to direct contact with another spot.
This is why I have come to the conclusion that my infection was originally caused by an infected chair. I believe that someone with an open sore on the back of their knee sat on a chair while wearing shorts, and I later came along and sat in that same chair with shorts on. (My first sore was on the back of my knee.)
I believe the primary way that monkeypox is spreading is through uncovered sores. Ninety-nine percent of cases are spreading through direct physical (often sexual) contact, but a few of us, such as myself (married and monogamous) and a woman I’ve met online (single and not sexually active), have caught it through indirect contact.
To be fair, this article would disagree, suggesting that monkeypox will only be spread by prolonged skin-to skin contact with very few exceptions, but if you read closely you’ll see that they actually do allow for the possibility of indirect infection.
Isn’t There a Vaccine?
Some lucky folks were vaccinated against smallpox as a child. (This is the vaccination that can still be seen as a small round scar on the upper arm.)
Good news, if you were vaccinated against smallpox as a child, that is 85% effective against monkeypox.
In 2019, a newer vaccine was approved for the prevention of monkeypox. Unfortunately access to the vaccine is limited because of a limited supply. You need to check with your public health department to see what your local policy is. In Colorado, the vaccine is limited to people who have had direct contact with someone who is infected or sexually promiscuous people, and is available at two clinics in Denver only.
If I Get It, What Should I Do?
The CDC recommends that you isolate from the time you see the first spot until you are completely healed with new skin.2
I have been isolating in a separate room since the day I was tested. I wear bandages and loose clothing to cover my spots at all times. I wear gloves when I need to go into other rooms of the house, and I keep my distance from my family and even the dog. I only sit in two places in the house, so that I don’t infect our furniture.
Here are a few practical tips for caring for yourself if you have monkeypox:
- Go out in public with uncovered spots
- Wear tight clothing & sweat (exercising really caused my spots to get large and painful.)
- Shave over spots (mine spread everywhere I shaved – legs, bikini area, armpits)
- Touch loved ones or pets
- Make food for others
- Share linens or clothing
Buy the bulk box of bandaids. Keep all spots covered at all timesand isolate.
UPDATE 10 days later: The spots heal much faster without bandaids.
- Wear loose fitting clothing that covers your spots and rest. Avoid sweating.
- Skip shaving. Toss out your razor if you need to. Keep your soap separate from others. Clean the shower after you use it.
- Give loved ones space and keep your pets separate from you unless you can isolate them as well.
- Keep hands off your spots
- Find another way to feed your family (contactless doordash, microwave meals, shouting instructions from your bedroom, etc.)
- Keep all your laundry separate and wash in hot water with a little bleach.
You’ll find more great tips on the CDC website here.
What About Tpoxx?
There is an antiviral medication called tecovirimat, or TPOXX, which can be used for treatment of monkeypox, but it is very difficult to get. Follow this link to see the complicated protocols and forms that must be completed to get a hold of the necessary doses of TPOXX.
Anecdotal stories indicate that TPOXX is highly effective and works within 2 days. Unfortunately, even eleven days after my test I still haven’t received results, so TPOXX hasn’t been an option for me. And the layers of red tape mean that many won’t be able to get a hold of it.
So We Should Panic?
The last thing I want to do is to cause any sort of fear or panic response. COVID-19 was a much more dangerous virus and precautions were necessary, but I believe our national response was devastating to our economy and mental health. The last thing I want is to go back to remote schooling or shut-downs.
Instead I think we need to be telling the truth and informing the public that this virus is not just happening “over there.” It is more contagious than we thought. Keep an eye out for the symptoms on yourself and others, keep those questionable “bug bites” covered, and if you catch it, isolate.
And to the medical community, please be willing to jump through some hoops to help your patients get the tests, medications, and care that they need. We appreciate you!
Would You Mind Praying For Me?
Thanks for hearing me out, friends. I would appreciate your prayers:
- For Steve and the kids: Encouragement and patience. Flexibility with this strangeness. (Kai’s birthday is Friday, and I think I’ll still be isolating.)
- That I use this downtime well: Whether what I need is rest or productivity, please pray that I’ll use my time well.
- That I will stop getting new spots and heal up SOON!
- For my spirits: That I will be encouraged and blessed by this tough situation and that I will be a blessing to others in some way.