Could only think of the pain: Patients recount the experience of monkeypox


The Monkeypox virus quickly spread across the world. (Representative)


The monkeypox virus can cause severe pain, but the psychological scars of the disease can be just as devastating, say sufferers and those who treat them.

“You don’t come out unscathed from a disease that has hurt you so much…as well as from the added burden of discrimination,” said Corentin Hennebert, one of the first cases in France.

Since May, the virus has spread rapidly across the world, overwhelmingly among men who have sex with men, raising fears of a repeat of the stigma faced by gay people during the AIDS epidemic.

Nathan Peiffer-Smadja, an infectious disease specialist at Bichat-Claude Bernard Hospital in Paris who coordinated research on patients with monkeypox, said “psychological distress is linked to several aspects” of the disease.

Monkeypox can be very painful, especially due to lesions that frequently appear on the genitals, anus or face.

The “particularly cosmetic sequelae” are distressing for many who fear ending up with lasting scars, Peiffer-Smadja said.

Then there’s the impact of being suddenly struck down with “a disease that people had never heard of” after two years of the Covid pandemic, the three-week isolation period of the reviving monkeypox of bad memories of confinement.

A small number of patients may develop internal lesions, particularly inside the anus, which can be “extremely painful,” Peiffer-Smadja said.


This was unfortunately the case for Hennebert.

“I constantly felt like razor blades were being pushed into me. I can’t think of any other comparison, (the pain) was so bad,” the 27-year-old told AFP.

Before receiving the powerful painkiller tramadol, he lost seven kilograms (15 pounds) in just three days because he was not eating.

“All I could think about was the pain,” he said.

“And I’m not the only one, others have contacted me saying they were out of breath, crying all the time.”

After recovering, Hennebert became a spokesperson for a group of monkeypox patients demanding faster action against the disease.

Sebastien Tuller, a 32-year-old LGBT activist, said he was “very anxious” when monkeypox lesions started appearing on his face.

“It was really ugly and I didn’t know what to do,” he said.

Michel Ohayon, head of the Paris 190 sexual health centre, said that “as soon as a disease is visible, it is scary because it becomes potentially stigmatising”.

He compared monkeypox lesions to those of Kaposi’s sarcoma cancer, a “visible symptom of AIDS”.


The global outbreak of monkeypox has “reawakened the trauma of HIV” although the disease is far less deadly, said Nicolas Derche of French LGBT group SOS.

“For people with HIV, it brought back some very difficult things,” from fear of a diagnosis to reliving past discrimination, said Vincent Leclercq of the French group AIDES.

Tuller said he received a torrent of insults and derogatory comments when he publicly announced he had monkeypox.

“There is a lot of residual homophobia and it has a real impact on mental health,” he said.

“Many don’t say they have – or have had – monkeypox, fearing stigma,” he added.

Young people who have not yet come out are put in a particularly difficult position, as are those who are afraid of having their sexual orientation revealed to their employer because they have to self-isolate for three weeks, he said. he says.

Almost a quarter of calls to a French monkeypox helpline this month were for psychological issues, the group that runs the line told AFP.

Some gay men have avoided sexual activity for months for fear of illness, which has a further impact on mental health, LGBT groups have said.

(Except for the title, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)


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