Monkeypox: British charity worker reveals what it’s like to fight the horror virus

A British man has painted a grim picture of what it’s like to have monkeypox after contracting what doctors said was one of the worst cases of the virus in June.

Charity worker Harun Tulunay described the grueling symptoms of the disease on the news.com.au podcast I have news for youwhich made him fear for his life.

The 35-year-old initially thought he had Covid-19 due to his flu-like symptoms which included high fever and swollen glands. But it wasn’t until I developed a rash that I knew something was wrong.

“I had a rash a few days later, all around my body, white and red, my skin changed color basically. Then I learned that it was a high fever. This was not a typical monkeypox rash,” Harun told host Andrew Bucklow.

Harun, who has been living with HIV since 2016, feared his symptoms were due to his HIV treatment failing.

Doctors were also puzzled, with a lesion on his nose not identified as monkeypox and emergency department doctors only prescribing penicillin for the tonsillitis.

“[The doctors said] “Here’s your penicillin, go home and rest, drink plenty of water.” I was like, I’ve got a 40 degree fever and I’m shivering, and in the heat wave, I was just lying in bed…it’s been like this 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 saliva due to throat injuries.

“It was so painful. I remember actually, I was screaming, ‘I can’t get help from anyone. I can’t eat I can’t drink I think I’m going to die,’ a- he declared.

At this point, Harun was admitted to hospital.

On June 22, Harun was tested for monkeypox and returned positive four days later. Despite being diagnosed, 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’s next,” he said.

“With monkeypox, we still don’t know anything because you know, there is a treatment but it’s…not proven yet.”

He said not knowing how long he would stay in hospital or when the injuries would go “really drained me mentally”.

“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 cost me dearly, maybe more than the illness.”

Along with the psychological impact, Harun also had to endure excruciating pain from the injuries.

He once said he was kicking the bed trying to swallow antibiotics, describing the pain as if he was “opening sores” in his throat.

“The blisters came out in the hospital and my nasal scab had its own world on my face so it was really, really painful. It felt like my heart was pounding in my nose.

Harun received antiviral treatment which is only prescribed for the most severe cases of monkeypox. After three days he was able to swallow small sips of water again and was released after 11 days and then self-isolated at home for another two weeks.

“I’m so emotional, I’m home, I’m so happy,” Harun said.

The charity worker has identified where he contracted the virus, but wants to reassure everyone that monkeypox is not a “gay disease”.

“I got it from my sexual partner. It wasn’t necessarily intercourse or sex. I really think it was a skin-to-skin kiss,” he said.

“It can affect anyone.”

Harun also wants to reassure people that he is not sharing his story to cause alarm, but rather to inform people that they can take steps to protect themselves.

“If you have the symptoms…just be careful.” I said “Be a good advocate for 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 to ensure no cases are missed.

“There are a lot of really reassuring things about this infection,” he said. “We know it’s actually something that’s relatively difficult to transmit, so nothing like Covid or the flu.

“You need direct contact with infected fluid for that to transmit and again, very different from Covid in that we already have vaccines available for that,” he said.

“We just need people to be aware so that we find the cases early and contain them.”

Dr Griffin said early symptoms included fatigue, headache, fever and swollen glands before a rash developed.

“Most people actually recover without any intervention in about three to four weeks, so there’s a small proportion of people who will get sicker, but it’s actually relatively small,” he said.

Knowing the risk factors, such as having sex with multiple partners, can help prevent the spread of the virus and seek medical advice as soon as you notice symptoms.

“The first thing is just to be aware of that, to be aware of the risk factors…we should be able to contain that with the most basic infection control principles, and that just requires those people to isolate for three or three or four weeks”.

Originally published as ‘So painful’: Man recalls terrifying ordeal of monkeypox