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'There should be no stigma attached': Louisville Health practicioners, patient want to remove stigma around Monkeypox

The virus is spread through any close or intimate contact, debunking the myth that only gay or bi men can get it.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — There are now four confirmed cases of Monkeypox in Jefferson County, and sources tell WHAS11 there is a fifth case.

Health officials say it's still rare, but continued education and awareness on the disease is important to protect yourself and others.

"It's still considered pretty rare. We do have a lot of worried, well patients that are calling and coming into our practices," said Angela Burgan, a nurse with Norton Medical Group.

Monkeypox is spreading across America, however, Dr. Mark Burns with UofL Health said it's seemingly affecting select groups, for now.

"Right now, the people who are most at risk are gay, and bisexual men and men that have sex with men, they're the most at risk right now," Burns said.

Both Burns and Burgan say this is not a gay disease and that stigma needs to be broken.

RELATED: States getting more monkeypox vaccines soon, US health officials say

"So just because that's where we're seeing the infection, doesn't mean that other people can't get it," Burgan said.

So what does the virus look like?

"Things like fever, headache, swollen lymph nodes, chills, fatigue, muscle aches," Burns said.

WHAS11's Ford Sanders was able to connect with the patient who had the first case in Louisville, who wished to remain anonymous.

He said he experienced all of these symptoms, adding it was about three weeks from start to finish.

Burgan said Monkeypox is contagious when the patient has active lesions.

"A person is considered non-infectious after those blisters fall, after those crusted blisters fall off," Burns said.

The virus is spread through any close or intimate contact, debunking the myth that only gay or bi men can get it.

"There should be no stigma attached. But we do just need to acknowledge the facts that the LGBTQ+ community, as so often throughout history, is being disproportionately affected by this virus," said Chris Hartman, the executive director for the Fairness Campaign.

Hartman said right now it's important they take action on educating the community of any risks.

"We cannot sit back and allow our community to be impacted first, and then wait for a government response, wait for a public health response," Hartman said.

The patient said he is willing to share more insight into what Monkeypox is and how it affected him.

Question and Answer with first Monkeypox patient in Louisville

Q: One of the big things I found out is that once the lesions begin to essentially crust and fall off, you aren't contagious anymore. When did you first notice the lesions and how long would you say it took from start or quarantine to when they fell?

A: That was just over 3 weeks for me.

Q: Did you experience any of these symptoms? Fever, headache, swollen lymph nodes, chills, fatigue, muscle aches, rash?

A: All of those plus drenching night sweats.

Q: I can imagine that was awful. What in your head made you think you had it? What was the first sign really and did you call a doctor, hospital? Who was there to help?

A: The first symptom was swollen lymph nodes. A day or two later the first lesion appeared and I assumed it was an STI and went to the specialty clinic on Broadway. The NP there was skeptical of its presentation being an STI and when my rapid syphilis test was negative she began the process of testing for Monkeypox by reaching out to the health dept. An epidemiologist from the health dept. came to the clinic with a testing kit. She collected the samples to send to a lab in Frankfort and took photos of the lesions and rash to send to the CDC. 

RELATED: WHO panel: Monkeypox not a global emergency 'at this stage'

Q: What did those conversations look like with the state health department? Did they check in periodically? Prescribe any antiviral medications at all?

A: I got a call a couple times a week between the health dept. representative and my ID physician checking in on my progress and if I needed any assistance. I was started on the antiviral TPOXX (Tecovirimat) which I think is on compassionate release by the FDA.

Q: This piece is also working to help break the stigma that this is a "gay disease" which it is not, anyone can get Monkeypox. However, it is disproportionately affecting gay and bisexual men right now. Do you identify as either of those/LGBTQIA+?

A: I am a gay man.

Q: One of my final questions is really how are you feeling today? You've now recovered I'm assuming so are there any after effects/symptoms you are feeling? Also during it, was it hard to do day to day things? Were you pretty much wanting to stay in bed because of how sick you were?

A: The rash I had was in a sensitive area and complicated with another health condition I had at the time so (it) was very painful. I ended up in the ER and required prescription pain management for a few days. But after that rash calmed down I was completely fine. Those initial symptoms only lasted a few days (headache, fever, chills...) the last 2 weeks of quarantine was just waiting for the spots to heal.

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