Monkeypox: UK charity worker reveals what it’s like battling horror virus

A UK man has painted a grim picture of what it’s like to have monkeypox after he contracted what doctors labelled as one of the most severe cases of the virus back in June. Charity worker Harun Tulunay described the gruelling symptoms of the illness on news.com.au’s podcast I’ve Got News For You, which left him fearing for his life. Initially, the 35-year-old thought he had Covid-19 due to his flu-like symptoms which included a high fever and swollen glands. But it wasn’t until he developed a rash that he knew something was wrong.“I had a rash a couple of days after, all around my body, white and red, my skin changed colour basically. Then I learned that this was a high fever rash. It wasn’t a typical monkeypox rash,” Harun told host Andrew Bucklow. Harun, who has been living with HIV since 2016, was worried his symptoms were due to his HIV treatment not working.Doctors were also puzzled, with a lesion on his nose not being identified as monkeypox and emergency department doctors only prescribing him penicillin for tonsillitis.“[The doctors said] ‘Here is your penicillin, just go home and rest, drink lots of water.’ I was like, I have a 40-degree fever and I’m shivering, and in the heatwave I was just layer on layer … this is what it was like for 15 days,” he said.Around mid-June, Harun’s health deteriorated so rapidly that he was unable to eat, drink or swallow his own spit due to lesions in his throat. “It was so painful. I remember actually, I cried out, ‘I can’t get help from anyone. I can’t eat. I can’t drink. I think I’m gonna die,’” he said. At this stage, Harun was admitted to hospital. On June 22, Harun was tested for monkeypox and returned a positive result four days later. Despite having a diagnosis, Harun said what came next scared him the most. “I have ADHD so if you have ADHD, you want to do things in a certain order and you want to know what is coming next,” he said.“With monkeypox, still we don’t know anything because you know, there’s a treatment but it is … not proven yet.”He said not knowing how long he would be in hospital or when the lesions would go “really mentally drained me”.“I was in a room without even a window that I could open. Four walls and a TV with Freeview, you know, a bathroom, and I’m not allowed to go out or do anything,” Harun said.“It was so mentally draining, it was a very big unknown, and it took a really huge toll on me, maybe more than the disease.”In addition to the psychological impact, Harun also had to endure the excruciating pain of the lesions.He said one time where he was kicking the bed while trying to swallow antibiotics, describing the pain as if he was “opening up wounds” in his throat. “The blisters came out in the hospital and my nose scab had its own world on my face so it was just really very painful. I was feeling that my heart was beating on my nose.” Harun received antiviral treatment that is only prescribed for the most severe monkeypox cases. After three days he was able to swallow small sips of water again and was discharged after 11 days, going on to isolate at home for a further two weeks. “I’m so emotional, I’m home, I’m so happy,” Harun said. The charity worker has pinpointed where he contracted the virus, but wants to reassure everyone that monkeypox isn’t a “gay disease”.“I got it from my sexual partner. It wasn’t necessarily the sexual intercourse or sex. I really think that it was kissing on skin contact,” he said. “This can affect anyone.”Harun also wants to reassure people that he isn’t sharing his story to cause alarm, but rather to inform people that there are actions they can take to protect themselves. “If you have the symptoms … just watch out for it.” he said. “Be a good advocate of your own health.”Dr Paul Griffin, an associate professor at the University of Queensland told podcast host Andrew Bucklow that stories like Harun’s are needed so cases aren’t missed. “There’s a lot of really reassuring things about this infection,” he said. “We know that it’s actually something that’s relatively hard to transmit so nothing like Covid or the flu. “You need direct contact with infected fluid for this to be transmitted and again, very different to Covid in that we have vaccines already available for this,” he said. “We just need people to be aware so that we find cases early and we contain them.”Dr Griffin said initial symptoms include fatigue, headaches, fevers and swollen glands before a rash develops. “Most people actually recover without any intervention in about three to four weeks so there’s a small proportion of people that will get more unwell, but that’s actually relatively low,” he said. Knowing the risk factors, such as having sex with multiple partners, can help prevent the virus from spreading as well as seeking medical advice as soon as you notice symptoms.“The number one thing is just to be aware of it, be aware of the risk factors … we should be able to contain this with the most basic infection control principles, and that is just asking those people to isolate themselves for three or four weeks.” Originally published as ‘So painful’: Man recalls terrifying monkeypox ordeal