Ask Tim Hickernell how he’s doing and the New York City man will tell you he’s “seen better days” as he tries to recover from a bout of monkeypox, a rare disease usually confined to Africa and now the largest. outbreak in the United States.
The actor is one of at least 30 people who have tested positive for the virus in New York City since early May. Nearly all NYC cases, representing more than 20% of the total diagnosed nationwide in the latest outbreak, involve men who have sex with men.
That’s what happened in Hickernell’s case. He says a sexual partner told him he thought he had contracted the virus, which comes from the same family of viruses that cause smallpox, but the partner was struggling to find available tests in the city.
It was six days after the exposure, Hickernell said. He checked his body. There was some slight redness, a slight rash and irritation. Then he saw three circular lesions near his groin. Hickernell says he was still feeling fine at the time, but “of course panicked”.
Later, more than a week after the sexual encounter Hickernell believes had been exposed to, he says he was afflicted with more severe symptoms — fever, fatigue, pain behind the eyes, congestion. There was another outbreak. Three sores became more.
“I didn’t get out of bed for almost three days,” Hinkernell said. “The crazy thing about this is that they are changing. The sores evolve over time.”
Two weeks after the exposure, one appeared on his hand. He still has the remains of one on his chin. They started as a small rash, then became circular and started to fester, Hickernell says. Now he says he has been dealing with swelling and swollen lymph nodes.
It takes 7-14 days for the symptoms to show up, but they can take up to 21 days to show up
Hickernell, who spent most of his infectious spell at home, says he tried to get tested earlier this month but ran into the same problems as the partner who notified him of the exposure. He says he was discouraged by 311 dispatchers switching him from one line to another and a lack of easy access to information.
That information and testing is now more widely distributed, and the network is expected to expand further in the coming weeks, which Hickernell says is “vital” for containment.
But he says more education needs to be done. For example, you’re not contagious if you’re not symptomatic, unlike COVID, Hickernell says he’s learned. In the six days before he was notified of his exposure, he kissed another person. He went out with his roommate. He takes comfort in the knowledge that he was not contagious at the time.
That’s partly why Hickernell is sharing his story — to help other New Yorkers trying to navigate the same “murky waters,” assess symptoms, and get all the help they need ASAP. More public warnings are needed, Hickernell says.
And New Yorkers need to watch out for each other.
‘Check your body. Check someone else’s body for sores,” Hickernell said. “It sounds like a lot, but you have to treat this almost like a COVID situation. We’re all traumatized and fatigued by it, but people need to take this seriously. I’m an underreported case.”
Recognizing that Hickernell is likely one of many, New York City’s health officials are upping their game. They said Thursday they would begin offering the monkeypox vaccine amid the spreading outbreak, which now has reached at least 156 cases in about half of the U.S. states, according to the latest CDC data. However, the actual number is likely higher.
Demand for the vaccine in the five city districts resulted in a shortened run-in on Day 1. Health officials said before 2 p.m. Thursday that all appointments through Monday were booked, and that was within three hours of announcing the doses were available.
Monkeypox was first discovered in 1958, when outbreaks occurred in colonies of monkeys kept for research – resulting in its name. (What you need to know about monkey pox.) It comes from the same family of viruses as smallpox.
Most people recover from monkeypox within weeks, but according to the World Health Organization, the disease kills up to 1 in 10 people.
The first human case was reported in 1970 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where most infections still exist. Other African countries where it is found: Cameroon, Central African Republic, Ivory Coast, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gabon, Liberia, Nigeria, Republic of the Congo and Sierra Leone.
Outbreaks of monkeypox in the United States are rare. The CDC says the risk to the general public remains low, but advises avoiding close contact with people who are sick, including those suffering from skin or genital lesions, as well as sick or dead animals. Anyone showing symptoms should contact a healthcare provider for advice.
The CDC also urges health care providers to watch out for patients with skin rashes consistent with the disease, regardless of whether they have traveled or have other risk factors. View more information from the travel report here.
We’ve already approved vaccines and treatments for monkey pox