Monkeypox has the potential to infect anyone, regardless of age, gender or race; in cases where pregnant women are infected, the virus can even travel to the fetus. Scientific analysis of the virus is severely lacking, but we do know one thing: folks are not “more at risk” purely because of their gender, race, geographic location or even line of work. That said, there is one demographic being the most vocal and forthcoming about their experiences: gay and bisexual men.
This week, V chats with two healthcare professionals and TikTokers who personally experienced monkeypox. Doctor John and Nurse Brian are helping break the stigma by documenting their journeys and educating their followers on how to identify early signs of monkeypox, and the symptoms and care techniques you’ll need to know if you do contract the virus. We’ll also talk about the failures of local & national government policies to protect public health. Monkeypox is not a dirty secret — we’re here to (literally) air the dirty laundry surrounding mainstream media bias in reporting on the virus and take you to the truth.
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V Spehar, Dr. John, John, Brian Park, Brian
V Spehar 00:00
I’m V Spehar and welcome to V INTERESTING. As you know, on our Friday episodes, we dive a bit deeper into a topic that we’re most curious about. And today, it’s about monkey pox. There is so much mystery surrounding the new virus that’s taking large metropolitan areas like New York city by storm. But what exactly is it? Well, if you’re only listening to social media chatter and alarmist right wing commentators, you assume it was some sort of like sexually transmitted disease that is strictly affecting gay men. And while that population is disproportionately impacted by the current outbreak, they are not the only ones susceptible to transmission. Because the truth is, anyone can contract monkey pox, which is just a variant of smallpox, which I thought we had eradicated like a century ago. So we’re gonna get into all of your questions on monkey pox. What is it? How do you get it? What do you do if you get it and more? Joining me today to talk all about it are two medical professionals who in addition to treating others, TikTok about their own personal experiences after contracting monkeypox. The first is Dr. John, a Chicago based doctor who goes by at @thatgaydoctor on TikTok. And Brian Thomas, a nurse living with HIV who posts content under the handle at @pawsrn. Thank you both so much for being with me today.
V Spehar 01:39
So I want to start off with I have to be honest, I have really avoided the topic of another potential pandemic or epidemic. And I have really just ignored what’s been going on with monkey pox. What is Monkey pox?
Dr. John 01:54
So monkey pox is a viral illness that runs in the same family as the smallpox virus is transmitted from close person to person contact via either exposure to active lesions that are on somebody or even respiratory droplets in like prolonged exposure. And it presents with different symptoms in different people. But the majority of people experience some like typical kind of viral illness stuff like fatigue, and swollen lymph nodes, sore throat, stuff like that, followed by breaking out in this rash, which are these like, painful, pox like lesions that are located different places over the body and the hands on the face in the genital region.
V Spehar 02:39
Dr. John, when you were in medical school was monkeypox, something that ever came up before?
Dr. John 02:44
Absolutely not. We learned about the family of viruses that it is in because we learned about smallpox. But when we learned about smallpox, it was like, well, it’s eradicated so we don’t really have to be stressing about it. So I did not learn about monkey pox at all.
V Spehar 02:59
And yet, here we are 2022, not eradicated, unprecedented times. And Brian as a travel nurse, when monkey pox first started getting talked about what was the field training like? Did they say anything to you about it?
Oh, my God, no, there’s still been no official, like, talk about it on my level as kind of like a, a bedside nurse. Like there’s been no like, at least, both of the hospitals that I’ve worked at, during this kind of like period where monkey pox has been a thing. Neither of them had put out any kind of like bullets hand or any kind of like, hey, this is on the rise. Maybe you should watch out for it. There’s basically been nothing.
V Spehar 03:42
nothing. And how does that differ from like when COVID first started, they took more so oh my god, you guys are laughing already like this. So when COVID first started, which was something we had never really seen before, right? Opposite reaction then.
Brian Park 03:58
I was at the bedside as in ICU. So like, we were just like ramping up. I feel like four months before, like, it hit us. And it was every single day, there was new email every single day. But not so much for monkey pox.
Dr. John 04:18
There’s some parallels in that like, originally with COVID. It was so much like, Oh, if you didn’t tropical China, like there’s no worry about it. And that was like the messaging that we were getting at the beginning. And so patients were reaching out stressing about it, seeing it on the news. And I was like, you know, I mean, it doesn’t really seem like a thing here. Obviously, that changed pretty drastically. But monkeypox is now a thing here. And messaging is gradually changing. But yeah, I mean, even when I was diagnosed as myself as a patient, as a doctor, I knew very little about it. And I’m pretty good at keeping up on current medicine.
V Spehar 04:56
Yeah, I mean, you’re a doctor and you got monkeypox, and we’re kind of having to both have the virus and try to self-educate on how you were going to help people, right?
Dr. John 05:06
Absolutely. Yeah. Because like, as I was like, coming to the realization that I had it, I like first I was like, there’s no way that I have this right. Like, there was like, when I got it, the news was saying that there were four cases in the state of Illinois, which is where I live. So I was like, There’s no way that I’m patient number five. But then just like, as it came to, like, okay, I definitely have this as the symptoms were progressing. I was like, I need to tell other health care providers about this, because like, if I don’t know about it, they definitely don’t know about it. And so I want to spread the message as much as I could.
V Spehar 05:42
This is the thing we talk about, sometimes with COVID, not to keep comparing them. But just like in terms of like the average person, what they might be thinking, it’s two and a half years into COVID. And now that I say this out loud, of course, I’m gonna get it. I’ve never got it. And I went to the White House Correspondents Dinner, which is a super spreader event, I was at VidCon. And there’s something that I feel very grateful for, but also very afraid of, which is, did I get it? And I didn’t know, do symptoms not present themselves? Did I just never get sick, but I was a carrier? Is it possible with monkey pox that people could have the virus but not be manifesting symptoms?
Dr. John 06:14
I genuinely don’t know the answer to that question. The thing is, like the testing for it is all lesion based, right? So there’d be no way to if you don’t have the rash, then you can’t really be tested, so we wouldn’t be able to confirm that. So yeah, I am not 100% sure on that.
Is the only reason I really, like I knew immediately when I first saw my first lesion is because I had seen Dr. John’s video when he had monkey pox. And I was like, wow, you know, just like anything like, wow, that’s really crazy. I didn’t think that this would affect anyone like me, but it’s definitely still not gonna happen to me. I’m gonna go on vacation. And then as soon as I found I had a lesion I was like…
V Spehar 07:01
As a person who’s reporting the news, I’m constantly told, don’t be alarmist don’t scare people. This is a rare thing. This isn’t going to happen. They’re even really, truly trying to suppress, like how much communication we do around this never mind health professionals. Why do you think that might be?
Dr. John 07:16
In my opinion, education is power. And the more we know about something, the more we can be more vigilant. I mean, understandably, people are, people are tired, and people are tired of hearing about COVID and hearing about things they can and cannot do. And even like, a lot of people in the comments of my videos were like, Oh, this is just the government imposing more lockdowns above. And it’s like, no, like, honestly, I am miserably sick. And I just don’t want other people to get this. And so that was the point of my messaging. So yeah, I mean, I truly don’t understand the logic behind not educating further about it. It’s frustrating.
V Spehar 07:53
Do we know or have like a better guess, at the rate at which it might be spreading in the US?
Dr. John 08:00
I seen, there’s a creator that I follow called Dr. Tiffany, who has been posting quite a bit about it. And she posted a graph that and I’m not sure if it’s due to suddenly more reporting or actually spread, but it is looking quite exponential growth in New York City, at least. I mean, of course, vaccine rollout has been absolutely horrendous, which is really, really upsetting. But I know in Toronto, they did like an excellent job with vaccine rollout. And it was like, super accessible, and their cases are already like, majorly on the downtrend, which is nice to see. But here, I mean, we’re rising and rising, as the day goes on in Chicago, like we already have over 100 cases. And I was just diagnosed a few weeks ago. And that was one of us at five or six, you know?
V Spehar 08:51
right. And that’s people who are willing to report it, sticking on vaccine for a minute. Did they come up with a new vaccine for the monkey pox, or is it one that already existed?
So there are two that are targeted towards monkey pox, they have not been yet released to the United States. But at the moment, they’re just using the smallpox vaccines, which is apparently able to provide up to 85% protection, which is great to hear. So just kind of going with that, for the time being. I think we are close to getting the FDA to approve the monkeypox one to be sent here, which would be great.
V Spehar 09:26
What group is most at risk right now for monkey pox and maybe should be prioritized?
I mean, I think we know that gay and bisexual. Male identifying people are highest at risk right now. Right? And that, you know, I think it’s just going to be most beneficial if we target that population. And I think there’s been a lot of just uneven coverage in the media because of it and I think yeah, at first fewer people don’t want to say that this is a gay disease, and then turn around and say, but it’s targeting the gay and bisexual population. But that’s what we need to be able to say. And I think a lot of large media sources are afraid that it’s gonna come off as homophobic if they make that point. Whereas like, from a public health standpoint, like, that’s what we need to do we need to get this information and these vaccinations to that target population, the best that we possibly can. I know that there has been a lot of even just like information getting to the BIPOC community of gay and bisexual men, that are people of color, there’s been an activity and that just like access to that information as well. You know, so we have to do better, you know, and there hasn’t been so like, the CDC just gave out these vaccinations to all these health departments. And we’re like, here, dose amount however you’d like. And there’s been no guidance on any kind of federal level on like, hey, this is going to be the best way to roll out these vaccinations. And so it’s up to every health department to kind of do whatever they think is right. And it’s not going well.
V Spehar 11:23
It’s not going well. I do want to ask, when we say things like this virus is predominantly affecting men who have intimate relations with other men, oftentimes, people are thinking it as a sex based disease or virus. And it’s not. In fact, I was talking with somebody recently who was saying, Yeah, but you have to look, it was, it was Hank Green, I was talking with Hank Green about why people get struck twice by lightning. And he was like, because if you get struck by lightning the first time you are doing activities that make you more susceptible to being struck by lightning. So it’s not that men who have intimate relations with men are more likely to get monkeypox. It’s that men who have more intimate relationships with men put themselves in a circumstance by which the culture and the activities that they are doing involve more skin to skin contact, we’re talking about just going swimming on Fire Island, just like being in the club, just the way dancing like a lot of these activities that that this particular community involves in, you have some more skin to skin contact than just intimate contact. And that’s something that we don’t get in the news media, they just don’t want to talk about the fact that like, a lot of times gay guys are shirtless and dancing. And like, that’s really all that it is, you know?
Dr. John 12:37
Yeah, I think and that was an important messaging that I was trying to get out as well, especially during pride month is that like, it is absolutely, absolutely affecting gay men and men who have sex with men disproportionately, like almost all of the cases are in that population. And this is occurring during a time when people are going to these big large events where people are dancing and shirtless and like, our culture is a very intimate culture, like a lot of gay men say hello with kissing each other. Most people don’t do that, you know, like, that’s not really their culture. And so, I was cautioning people, because there was that concern about like, this fine line between stigmatizing and actually letting people know what is risky of like, yes, the disease isn’t asking you what’s your sexual orientation before it affects you. But if you are, like a lot of allies go to these pride events, and they would be at risk if they were being in close, intimate contact with other people. Of course, like, it’s quite extensive contact, like, it’s not like you’re just in an elevator with someone for 30 seconds, and you’re gonna get it from them. Like you have to, it’s seeming that you have to have quite close contact. But just like other things, like the flu is not sexually transmitted. But if you have sex with someone who has the flu, you’re gonna get the flu like that. You’re just close and you’re sharing bodily fluids, and that’s how transmission of things occur.
V Spehar 13:57
Both of you having had monkey pox, did it change your perception of the virus?
Dr. John 14:04
I think it just like, really brought it more to my attention. Because like, yeah, similar to what Brian was saying, was that like, Yeah, you were seeing it on the news and thinking like, oh, this isn’t seeming like it’s going to be somewhat something that’s going to affect me. And I think it was a blessing for me to have it so early, because like, I do have a large audience and like, so many people were like, wow, like, I can’t believe that you have it, and it’s making it seem so much more real. And it’s making me like take this way more seriously, and tons of my friends as well. And so like people have, like, I’ve received an overwhelming amount of messages of people being like, I really want to get the vaccine because of you or like similar to Brian like I realized I had it because of you and so it just made me wait make it feel so much more real.
Yeah, it was like cuz seeing it on a few news stories, and then it did make it more real when I saw Dr. John’s video I Um, I was like, Wait, this actually is a real thing I made a video about, like, I feel like we’re in like crisis exhaustion, kind of, like you were saying earlier and like, you know, COVID we have killer bees, we had, you know, like, every, everything under the sun. And you know, and now the news is telling us that like a variant of smallpox essentially, is back back on the market. And I was just like, this is, and a lot of my followers have been commenting like, Oh, this is just another thing. That’s another sensationalist thing. And then once I actually got it, I went through those that cycle of feelings like how is this possible? Did I really, is it real, this is real? And now that’s when I did it was like, no, people need to know about this. And people need to know specifically about some intimate parts of this that are happening in the community. So I have no shame on me sharing about it.
V Spehar 16:03
And we are going to hear more about that. We’re going to take a quick break. And we’re going to hear all about what the experience of monkey pox was like and how we can help other people get a better understanding of it so that they can be less afraid better informed and hopefully stay safe. Okay, we are back with Dr. John And Brian, my favorite bedside nurse who are both tick tock errs of course, because you know, that’s, that’s the world that I live in. It’s such a beautiful neighborhood all of the time with no problems ever. Guys, before we went to the break, we were talking about what the experience of having monkey pox is, like, kind of like, Brian, maybe can you start by walking me through, I noticed that I had the lesion what happened next? Like what was it like to live with it for those two weeks?
Yeah, so, you know, I had, I had a pretty like, textbook example of all of the symptoms, you know, I got really tight, got really tired malaise, and I got a headache and a fever and chills. And then I started having these, you know, lesions. But what I had not been kind of put in any of the resources that I’ve read, whereas some […] symptoms, and I started having really severe cramping, and really severe constipation, and then it felt like my, like, anal rectal area was just in gorge and swollen. And that’s when we realized that I had anal rectal tract lesions. And, and they and this is and when I was like, You got it, I knew that it was possible to have them in your mouth and in your anal rectal area. But to this severity, there was no information about it. And yeah, so on top of, you know, having those symptoms and then having these kind of like sporadic lesions all over my body, which are like itchy and kind of annoying, but they’re manageable. For like, five days, I was in like excruciating abdominal pain, that, you know, I had a heating pad, I could only eat soup. You know, I had to take stool softeners to, you know, help me be able to pass my bowels, it was like, really, really bad. And apparently, a large percentage of infections right now are experiencing these symptoms, which is like, I think very disproportionate to what we have seen in previous monkey pox outbreaks before because there has been monkey pox outbreaks before, they just haven’t been to this magnitude. And of this nature, especially if I can run community. So, these of these abdominal symptoms were horrible. They went away after about five days. And then the rest was like healing these body lesions and just kind of waiting for them to heal. And that was just like, annoying and boring.
V Spehar 19:11
Yeah, still, like five days of the pain that you’re describing. I cannot imagine and that has to add to the exhaustion. On top of that, you’re kind of like the isolation, the loneliness of being like, I can only really be the only person who cares for me because it’s not like you can go to the hospital. They’re not allowing that to happen and having somebody come in would be dangerous to that person. Dr. John, what kind of long term damage could somebody be looking at if they have a severe case of monkey pox?
Dr. John 19:39
Yeah. So I had a similar presentation to Brian as well in with the rectal pain and to be honest, that’s an important thing for people to know about because I had that before I had any of the lesions and I just assumed I had a rectal STI. So I went and got like routine STI testing, just assuming that’s why I was having the pain and did not know until I started develop the rash that it was actually coming from the monkey pox. And it was, it was terrible, like, really […] about five days long. And so long term, I mean, we don’t really know a whole lot like, there, of course, like, this is seeming like it’s a different variant than the one that is happening in Africa, which has like a high death rate, which is obviously a reassuring thing for us to see that, like, we’re not all at risk of dying from this. But there’s such a wide range of severity. I mean, a ton of people have reached out to me since posting like from all over the world about what they’re going through. And there are people that have hundreds of lesions, which are who are just in complete misery pain, like people have sent me photos of just like being covered. And then people who have five or six and get over it pretty quickly. So I would assume that people with the more severe ones are going to have like some inflammatory issues with their GI tract, long term, stuff like that. But we’ll kind of have to see, like, what comes of this with getting more research because that’s what’s rough about it is that there’s not a lot of information on it at the moment. And so I was even trying to read like, Google Scholar while I was like, waiting on my test results to like, find out more and I wasn’t getting anywhere.
So what you’re saying is, I don’t know if my rear ends ever gonna look the same?
Dr. John 21:25
Yeah, I mean, people like I have, I have some scars on ones that I had, like, on my arms, like die. Yeah. So a lot of people don’t look at their butt, you know, and like they, if they had their initial lesions on their butt, and then they went and sat on a public toilet seat for 20 minutes and then got up and someone else and like, that’s scary. That’s a concern.
It could easily be misconstrued as an ingrown hair. You know, like, that’s what I originally taught mine were.
Dr. John 21:53
Like a bug bite like, is it of course, they evolved to look way, like weirder, but in the early stages, like you could confuse it for a lot of things.
V Spehar 22:02
How do you treat the lesions? Like is there any guidance for that is it comparable to something somebody else might have experienced ever?
Dr. John 22:10
So there is there is an oral treatment called T-pox that is being offered for what they consider more severe cases which there is not exactly a clear guideline as to what that means, but they are saying that if you have like a large amount of mucosal lesions, so whether that be in your mouth or in your rectum, because, of course this severely impacts people like if you can’t eat or if you’re having trouble going to the bathroom that bad they will approve this treatment, you have to fill out like paperwork to get it approved. I myself just elected not to take it but that’s the mainstay of treatment. My provider prescribes me like a topical lidocaine ointment that I genuinely don’t think did anything. I took ibuprofen and I am hearing people even taking like narcotics, like opioid pain medications, and it’s still not really touching the pain. So it is kind of seeming like a kind of grit and barrel type situation, unfortunately.
V Spehar 23:06
she is I mean; I am sitting here just like absolutely in shock. The producers are also texting me in shock because we had no idea we did extensive prep for this, there is no information about those types of symptoms, public truly anywhere.
It makes me so upset, because I feel like people like this information needs to be out there. And I think it’s people are just afraid to talk about butts. Sure. Like people are afraid to talk about these symptoms too, you know, like, no one wants to talk about their, you know, like, inflamed butt, you know, or their GI symptoms, but they need to like it needs to be talked about, like because so many people I have had so many followers, reach out to me, like every day, there’s someone new on Instagram, that’s messaging me being like, hey, I saw your video about your anal rectal lesions. I’m having the same thing every day, every single day. And it’s not out there for the general public, you know?
V Spehar 24:11
And this symptom is not exclusive to gay men. I got a DM I was talking about doing the monkey pox episode and I got a DM from a viewer who is a straight woman in Mississippi who went camping with her husband. And she was saying how much extreme pain she was in. She didn’t go into quite as much detail as you did. But she was saying similar kind of things. No, it was the first time I heard it. So I was like, oh, well, I guess maybe that’s just her. But it’s not. This is something I’m telling you. I’m gonna get vaccinated like immediately after this because this is scary though. These are the things that people need to know are real life implications of trying to kind of avoid talking about these things. We’ve talked a lot about the adult cases of monkey pox. Is this something that children are at risk, or teenagers?
Dr. John 24:56
I mean, definitely if it can be spread from person to person, if adults were to get it and be cuddling with their child on the couch, they could easily spread it to them. It is, like we’ve touched on it does not require sexual contact, it’s just a body against body. And so kids are definitely at risk. I personally have not heard of many or any cases in the news of it affecting pediatric population. But there’s, there’s nothing that is saying that they cannot get it.
V Spehar 25:27
So be careful, you know, just when you’re taking your kids out, like we said, there’s gonna be a vaccine in a couple of weeks. But definitely monitoring all of those safety precautions. We took maybe with the beginning of COVID, just making sure the kids remain safe from this and understanding that this is something they can affect anyone. It’s just the population that’s coming forward and talking about their experience most right now happens to be men. In both of your cases, did you have to report it to your jobs and be working in healthcare? How did that go?
Dr. John 25:58
Yeah, I mean, nobody said that I had to, but I close with my manager. And I because I ended up I went to the ER when I had it, because I was like something very, very wrong with me. And so I just messaged her being like, hey, I’m in the hospital. I’m not sure what’s going on. I’m gonna keep you updated. But I won’t be in the office for a while. And so I ended up, I also had COVID at the same time, which just..
V Spehar 26:26
Oh, my gosh, double whammy.
Dr. John 26:29
So, I ended as soon as I, as soon as I spoke to the infectious disease doctor, and she was like, yes, it does seem like that is this. I just told her that. That’s what I think it is. And I didn’t, I didn’t even know how long I was not going to be able to work for thankfully, I was able to ship to telehealth. So I just like took two days off and then did my job from home, which was nice. But yeah, no real implications in the workplace. But a lot of people don’t have that luxury to be able to do why. And that’s an important thing that makes me want more people to be protected is that some people being off work for three weeks is like life ruining, can’t pay your bills.
V Spehar 27:07
It’s life ending. Yep. And Brian, you were between contracts when it happened to you, luckily on luckily.
Yeah. Luckily on luckily, I, you know, I with contract work. So I just like, let my agency know, and I had a contract already booked and ready to go with and it was in about like two and a half weeks, which is probably around like the minimum suggested time that it takes these lesions to heal. And for me, it was like I, you know, I couldn’t afford to just cancel this contract, and then wait, and then not, and then be out of work for another month. So I just like, well, hopefully my body does what it needs to do. And luckily it did. I actually, like got cleared from the health department the day before I had to fly from to Los Angeles, but it was definitely a gamble.
Dr. John 27:59
Can I ask, when you say clear by the Health Department, like did someone schedule you to have like an exam? Or how did that happen?
They had me send them pictures of my lesions as they were healing. So like, I think, on the like, on the first day that I had been reported to the health department, they had me take a few pictures of lesions, and then a weekend they had me take a picture and then right before I needed to go because they I told them like, hey, I really need to, I have to fly on, you know, in two weeks, what do you think? And they’re like, they were like, well, we don’t know about that. So then I sent them like, kind of confirmatory pictures of the lesions to show them like, hey, these F’s that they saw that they had skipped over, and then that they had healed over.
Dr. John 28:47
That’s good to know. Because, like a ton of people were asking me about the quarantine, you know, because with COVID, we’re all being told this number of days, you know, and it’s not like that with monkey pox. And so that’s a challenge. And like, literally, the only instruction I was given was, you should remain not in contact with other people until all the lesions have crusted fallen off and form new skin underneath and healed and thankfully, I’m a doctor. And so I was like, fairly confident that I was I didn’t have like a follow up where somebody like did check to see. And that is kind of concerning because the general population, probably a lot of people are like, I don’t know, am I okay, at this point, can I go out?
Is this healthy skin? Is this not?
Dr. John 29:27
Yeah, I even myself, like gave myself some extra buffer days where my friends were like, I feel like you’re being really hard on yourself. And I was like, I just don’t want any percent of risk of like giving us to anyone, so I’m just uh, yeah, they look better, I think so, I’m just gonna stay home another few days to be extra sure.
V Spehar 29:47
Dr. John, you’re a good friend, not wanting your friends to go through the butt crisis that you just described.
We’re just trying to prevent crisis here.
V Spehar 29:57
Exactly that though, right? Like the public doesn’t know I would have no idea I’m telling you as a person who like doesn’t know and thinks they’re doing the right thing, my reaction would be, well, I’ll just put a really super secure Band Aid over it and then the lesion won’t be like in the air and then maybe I’ll be okay. Folks should not do that. If this is what they have.
Dr. John 30:13
Yeah, they’re, it’s just not clear. Like, I wish there could have been like a test to say like, okay, you’re okay to be out in the wild, you know, and it’s the same with like, having anal rectal lesions. So how do you know that those are completely healed? You know, like, when is it okay to have sex again. And I like a major concern, you know?
Like, obviously, I’m pretty sexually active person. And I’ve made it a point to I’m probably going to abstain for up to like three or four more weeks, because I really, who knows? I mean, who knows? I mean, I think there’s also been a lot, there’s information or guidance on how to take care of these lesions, right? Do you leave them open to air, so they dry out? Do you keep them moist with some Neosporin? Do you put something on it to like reduce scarring? Should you put calamine lotion on it? There’s no guidance and no suggestion, at least that I have found on how to like properly take care of these so that they heal as quickly as they possibly can.
Dr. John 31:14
Yeah, I don’t know of any information either. And people are asking me that all the time. Like my DMs are full of you like what should I do, which I was like, honestly, I didn’t really do anything. I kind of just waited. I tried not to touch them. I tried because I had that gnarly one on my hand that everyone was like, did you pop it like, no, I didn’t pop it.
V Spehar 31:34
When we get back, we’re going to talk about how stigma is playing a role in the ways that people are reporting the way they’re gathering information and, unfortunately, revisit how the AIDS crisis was handled in the 80s and 90s. And how we can do better this time. So we’ll have all that right when we get back. Okay, we are back. And we’re gonna get into now how stigma plays a role in not just how people are telling their stories, but how the government is continuing to ignore these stories and why we don’t have any resources to help folks who are very ill. I want to ask you guys both have you noticed similar language to the way that people are being described that have monkey pox, right? It came out that it’s like, oh, this is a gay guys disease. And then immediately, all the comparisons to HIV and AIDS came out. And then people were like, I don’t ever want to say that I had it because I don’t want people to think that I’m gay, or I’m like promiscuous, or I’m doing whatever. What are the conversations like offline in the community about monkeypox right now?
Well, you know, I think that there any communicable disease has stigma, right? You know, even with COVID, that affects the entire general population, you know, when and I see it at the bedside, where, you know, if someone doesn’t get vaccinated, or someone doesn’t wear a mask, there’s an understanding like, that if they get this communicable disease, that they deserved it somehow, or they should have made better choices, right, and the same tracks for HIV and AIDS, you know, in the AIDS crisis, and even still to today, you know, I still get messages all the time, about how, you know, I should have been more careful, or I should have known or I deserve it. And the same, the same is happening with monkey pox, you know, and when I came, became really public about it, you know, and I was, I’m very vocal about how I got it, I had it, I had, you know, having casual sex, that gay pride, and the stigma in the comments, just were, you know, just the same, you know, like, I should have known better, I’m a nurse, I should know better. I deserve this, you know, like, stuff like that, and that just like, kind of perpetuates this, like you said, like, and I try to, like, you know, tell people like when other people see that, and they see how there’s, you’re treating me, they’re not going to get tested, they’re not going to tell their partners, they’re not going to be vigilant, they’re going to hide it, because they don’t want other people to think that they are permitted promiscuous or slotty. You know, or any of those things, you know, and then at the beginning of the of media coverage of this, and still people are saying, Oh, it’s only affecting gay man or this is a gay disease. Right. And I tried to stress that like, although that’s predominantly affecting this community, when we say that it is just a gate or it is only affecting gay people, or is it gay disease, then people that aren’t gay if they have monkey pox, are going to be afraid of homophobia, if they can become public about having monkeypox go get tested or tell any of their, you know, friends or loved ones. You know, it’s just like this really vicious circle on its was exactly what happened with you know the AIDS crisis in the 80s and 90s. It’s exactly what happened and actually is still happening with HIV, it still happens with HIV that, you know, people won’t seek treatment, if they have or they won’t get tested because they’re afraid that if they contract HIV that they will be, you know, black sheep is as gay or something.
V Spehar 35:40
Yeah. What can we do to break down the stigma around being positive, if you will for monkeypox so that we can get some local government resources allocated towards researching vaccination?
Dr. John 35:55
It’s a great question. And I think that’s a lot of what both Brian and I are trying to do is just talk about it and talk about how you can get it and how to protect yourself and make it more known because like he and I, like a lot of people aren’t like he and I were, we would post on the internet for millions of people to see that we got a disease, or are very uncomfortable talking about this kind of stuff. And there is shame and stigma. And I’ve received a lot of hateful comments on my posts because of talking about having it and that is really unfortunate. And it makes me understand why people don’t share. And I think it’s important point that he brought up about like, getting, like people thinking that oh, if you have this you’re gay, and then avoiding getting tested for it, because then they’re just going to be out in the community spreading it. Because if people do have a milder case, where they just had six, seven lesions that were like, looked weird spots, you could easily just like excuse that for oh, like I got bug bites or something and like not get tested, and then be out and about hugging your family and friends. And that is an absolute nightmare. So just promoting the messaging about how it is spread. It is not from gay sex only, yes, that is one way that you can get it but close body to body contact so that people can understand that it can really be impacting anybody. And I do hope that like some of the people that you’re referencing these, like women that are going down with it, which I’m terrible to hear about. But I hope that they are also telling their story so that it resonates because sometimes people need to sound see someone in their walk of life that is affected by something before it really hits home. And the same happened with COVID. You know, like, so many people were like, oh, this isn’t real, this isn’t real until a family member, someone they knew was affected by it, and then they start to understand it and take it more seriously.
V Spehar 37:46
Have either of you got the monkey pox vaccine yet? Or no, because you got the virus you didn’t?
Dr. John 37:50
Yeah, I have not I will probably get it. With it being so limited at the moment. I’m allowing other people to get access to it.
It’s better to go to someone that might not have natural immunity like we do now. I will say so Baltimore was only allotted like 200 vaccinations? During the original, for an entire city. And it’s not a big city, but it’s also not a little city.
V Spehar 38:19
Obviously, we’re concerned that this is really 200 vaccination shots out there. But were you concerned when you were in Baltimore about even the tourist population that’s passing through? Not really?
Not really yet. So I was a third person in Maryland to be diagnosed. And like, at that point, like, it’s probably a bigger problem now, you know, it’s like yeah, rapid is like rapid we’re rapidly you know, getting more information there are certain there are places like most places can’t even test for monkey pox, right? Like there you have to go to specific labs that can actually test for it. So I, you know, I’m more concerned about, you know, the, the population that wants, like, we have people that want to get vaccinated, our community is like health conscious. We’ve lived through a plague before we’re like, ready to combat this, we’re like, ready to line up and get this vaccination, and it’s just not there. We just need more resources. We need a you know, a system to get these vaccinations out. We need a you know, federal kind of system on how to manufacture and distribute these and get them everywhere because people are ready for it. We’ve already lived through the AIDS crisis, and our community has been shocked, scarred and traumatized by that.
V Spehar 39:47
That is so true. Well, we have to take just one more last break, but we will have more with Dr. John and nurse Brian right after this. And we’re back. As you know, oftentimes we think about things as so American rights. And that’s the way the news goes. That’s where the United States news goes anyway. It’s like America only all the time. And we only talk about ourselves in this bubble. But there are cases of monkey pox that are breaking out in the UK. And I just saw that India had their first case. Do you guys have any info on how this is spreading internationally?
Dr. John 40:29
UK has a lot of cases. So there’s a lot of European countries that are being affected by Canada as well. So it is not a US thing only. Of course, the US is floundering in terms of vaccines, which I’m not surprised about either. Yeah, it’s really it’s becoming a worldwide thing.
Dr. John, do you know how long they think that the virus can live outside the body on surfaces? Because I haven’t gotten like a real answer.
Dr. John 41:06
I haven’t gotten a real answer either. I just read something that said more than 48 hours and I was like, okay, but more until when though?
There’s a lot more than 48 hours.
V Spehar 41:20
Within 48 hours is forever to me, that’s it. I mean, more than like two hours is like you’re probably somebody else is gonna come in contact with that.
Dr. John 41:29
I know because I didn’t want anybody coming in my apartment for a long time because I was like, I don’t know. Like, I was just like, late you’re living in my monkey pox filth for 14 days not doing anything like it’s my couch. Okay, like, I don’t know, it’s scary.
V Spehar 41:44
Is there anything from your guys medical training that would tell you like, okay, Lysol kills some virus. Is this something that when somebody doesn’t have monkeypox anymore, they could potentially do some sort of deep cleaning?
There is an official and that my health department sent me an official list of soaps and sanitizers and cleaning supplies that are effective in killing the monkey pox virus. And yeah, they sent me that information was like, but like, Clorox would kill it. Right? Like, yeah, so that’s what I used. But there is a list out there that gives you suggestions on cleaning supplies that will be effective in killing virus, but I mean, you can’t bleach your couch cushion.
V Spehar 42:32
Yeah, we’ll find that list. We’ll link to it in the show notes for sure. Any advice for folks, as we’re wrapping up our conversation here, and I go home, go like absolutely screaming into the void after this, because I’m scared now. Is there anything that we can tell folks to help encourage them to take this seriously?
Dr. John 42:50
Yeah, I mean, just be vigilant. I think that is the best advice like so many people are asking me like, is it okay to get a massage? Is it okay to do whatever and you know, everything in life comes with risks. So you kind of have to decide for yourself, what is, what activities for you are worth the risk, know that this is out there know that this is spreading know that there is a vaccine and we are everyday getting better access to it. And so hopefully it’s very accessible within the next month or so. So if you can be as safe as possible in the next little while, that would be the best thing for you. Because I do not want anyone else to have to go through what both of us did.
V Spehar 43:33
I mean, the butt stuff, guys, I agree. I think they should have led with that, if they lead with monkey pox will cause severe uncomfortability in your in your bathroom capabilities, I would have taken it serious straight up. Like I already have GI problems as probably everyone who listens to this podcast does because most of us are millennials and Gen X and like everybody’s entire immune system is like destroyed by the years and years and years of stress. I am not adding like anal fissures and lesions to that. I can’t add to the things. I’ve learned so much from ya’ll today.
I’ve had a lot of long term HIV survivors reach out to me and say how triggering this, the coverage of this has been for them because they lived through all these stories about oh, you know, so and so he has lesions, I wonder how long he might have to live. And it had it. I think it’s important for me to say right now that you know, we have not seen mortality with this virus. We have a vaccine that again is growing increasingly available. And while it is, can be a severe illness, it is manageable, uncomfortable, but manageable. And that’s what makes this different from these other epidemics that we have seen. And I think people need to be reassured that, that you should be cautious about this, you, we know how we can avoid this, avoid close contact and things like that. And sometimes you make a choice that is weighing that risk. And this is going to be more fulfilling for your life. But I don’t want to over frighten people about it. Because that’s, I think, where we get this, like, this crisis exhaustion, where people are just gonna be like, oh, it’s just another thing where people think everybody’s gonna die, blah, blah, blah.
V Spehar 45:44
And we appreciate you for it. It is not easy to talk about these things. And I’m so glad that y’all were here with me today to just clear up some misconceptions and help us understand what’s going on with monkey pox a little bit more. You’ve both been such a light and a resource for people on TikTok, and I will link in the show notes also where folks can find you on TikTok. It’s been such a pleasure to have you both. Thanks for being here.
V Spehar 46:11
Wow, I just want to thank our guests so much for being on today, for trusting me for being so vulnerable and for sharing with the audience what to expect if you do happen to encounter monkey pox. Be sure to tune into Tuesday’s episode, we’ll be diving into the headlines that you care most about. Leave me a voicemail with your good news at 612-293-8550 Subscribe to Lemonada Premium on Apple podcasts and follow me at under the desk on Instagram and TikTok Have a great weekend and we will see you on Tuesday.
V INTERESTING is a Lemonada Media Original. Our producers are Rachel Neel, Xorje Olivares, Martín Macías, Jr. And Dani Matias. Executive Producers are Stephanie Wittels Wachs and Jessica Cordova Kramer. Mixing and Scoring is by Brian Castillo, Johnny Evans and Ivan Kuraev. music is by Seth Applebaum. Please help others find the show by rating and reviewing wherever you listen and follow us across all social platforms at @VitusSpehar and @UnderTheDeskNews, also, @LemonadaMedia. If you want more be interesting, subscribe to Lemonada premium only on Apple podcasts.