Monkeypox outbreak: Patient shares his experience

The United States is experiencing an outbreak of monkeypox, a viral disease that is generally rare in this country. As of early July, more than 500 people nationwide likely have monkeypox, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

New York City has more than 111 of those cases, which is double the number from a week ago. Now the city's Health Department is waiting for the delivery of thousands more doses of a vaccine. 

One of the first Americans to be infected in this outbreak has gone public with his experience to fight disease stigma and help get the word out about the illness. Matt Ford is an actor, performer, and video creator who splits his time between New York and Los Angeles. He recently wrote a post on BuzzFeed and posted a video on TikTok to get encourage people to learn more about how monkeypox spreads and what to do if they suspect they were exposed. 

Interview with Monkeypox Patient

Ford spoke to Good Day New York's Bianca Peters and Dan Bowens from his home in Los Angeles. Here is the interview, lightly edited for clarity and length. 

GOOD DAY NEW YORK: That's like a very big deal to get on social media, expose this very personal part of your life. It's a heavy burden to bear but you did it. What were the responses like from it? And were you scared to do that at first?

FORD: I was a little bit on the fence at first because there is potential for stigma and it is the internet. But I was very pleasantly surprised. The majority of the responses were overwhelmingly positive and a lot of people sending me well wishes and thanking me for educating people. So I was very grateful for that.

Can you talk to us a little bit about the nature of your symptoms? A lot of people [are] very curious about how easily transmissible this is as well.

I believe I got it through skin-to-skin contact. I think that and respiratory droplets seem to be the main way it is spreading, according to the info I've seen and through the CDC. For me, it was pretty intense flu-like symptoms in the beginning with a few lesions. And then as those flu-like symptoms abated, more and more lesions popped up on my skin — some of which were quite painful. In total, I counted more than 25.

Are we talking weeks for [the lesions] to fully subside? Days?

We are talking weeks. Thankfully I'm on the tail end of it now, so I'm not in pain or anything anymore. But yeah, the CDC said it can take two to four weeks. And that seems to be what we're seeing.

I know you may have a slight gripe with the CDC though because maybe they weren't as active in kind of getting information out to people in terms of helping them diagnose themselves? So what are you thinking the CDC needs to do just to better help this situation?

It's partially a systemic issue, right? I think it goes beyond the CDC. I know a lot of media reports said that I was slamming them. I think it was more so just frustration that a lot of medical professionals didn't seem to be educated on the monkeypox outbreak when people who had it were going in trying to get tested. I know even now there's a huge shortage in supply of the vaccines and in testing capabilities. I've had friends who have gone in and thought they had it, tried to get tested and weren't able to. I can't pretend to know the solution in the inner workings of the CDC and the medical system but I know that something needs to change so that more vaccines are available ASAP and that more tests are readily available soon as possible.

We're still pretty much in [the coronavirus pandemic]. We're talking about the rise in COVID cases that are happening across the country, but we've just sort of come out of the worst of having to find [COVID] tests and getting vaccines and distribution and the criticism that came with the lack of testing earlier. Were you surprised that as this virus began to spread and become news, there were all these complications with trying to get tests given what we'd just been through?

Yes and no. Yes, it's frustrating to see history repeat itself so soon, right? That was two years ago or less. But at the same time for that very reason, we're just coming off another huge epidemic. So it doesn't surprise me totally that resources might be a little scrapped or people are focused on other things. But yes, it was definitely still frustrating.

Do you think that this is going to continue to be an issue? You know how easily it can spread. I think a lot of people are sort of looking at this, they see it in the background, but do you think this has the possibility of lingering for a long time staying around and sort of becoming a bigger problem than it is right now?

It's impossible to speak long-term to the future — I really hope not. I do think in the more immediate future, it is going to be more spread than it currently is mainly due to the fact that, according to my doctor, and a recent NPR article, and a lot of what I'm hearing is that a lot of cases are being under-reported right now. I think a lot more people have it than the CDC is even aware of. And a lot of people are quiet when they have it due to shame and stigma, right? Not that many people are going public about it. So in that situation, it spreads easier, and so I am a bit concerned for the immediate future.

Which is something that you did in terms of being public about it. And that's helping alleviate the fact that it should not be stigmatized. Any advice for people watching doesn't matter what sexual orientation you are but in terms of just moving forward and being aware of this any advice you want to give?

Yeah, absolutely. I would say get vaccinated for it as soon as possible, as soon as there's more supply, which I know the Biden administration is working on right now. Definitely, get vaccinated. I would say be cautious of who you have close skin-to-skin contact with or in close proximity to if there's someone who could potentially have it. And lastly, I'm just saying for anyone who thinks they've been exposed or might come down with it, remember that it is a temporary condition and there's no reason for any shame or stigma.

People who you've talked to are they finding that they can actually get a vaccine or is there a waitlist?

It's been pretty tough. Usually, you have to be exposed. It's a tough line to get in.

Matt Ford, we appreciate you being so brave and to be able to speak about this publicly and for joining us this morning, it was early. So we'll let you get back to bed and get some extra sleep.

Thank you for having me.

Monkeypox Symptoms

Monkeypox begins as a rash or sores that can look like pimples or blisters, according to the CDC. These bumps can appear all over the body — including your face, hands, feet, mouth, genitals, or anus — and can become infected.

The symptoms usually start between a week to two weeks after exposure but may not appear for up to 21 days. The sickness can last from two to four weeks with flu-like symptoms including fever, chills, fatigue, swollen lymph nodes, headache, and body aches and pains — like a weaker version of smallpox. 

"If you have a new or unexpected rash or other symptoms of monkeypox, contact a health care provider," the city's Health Department states. "A person is contagious until all sores have healed, and a new layer of skin has formed, which can take two to four weeks."