Column: I brought monkeypox to my family's house in Bloomington. Don't be like me.

·3 min read

Monkeypox is serious. Please take it seriously.

I am a gay man living in Chicago, and in late June, I contracted monkeypox. On Thursday, July 7, I began experiencing genital discomfort as well as some flu-like symptoms. Notably, my lymph nodes began to swell. I stopped by the clinic and was prescribed antibiotics before leaving town to come to Bloomington to visit my parents, sister, 2-year-old niece and newborn nephew for the weekend.

My symptoms did not dissipate, and I knew that there was a chance that my symptoms could be monkeypox and not a garden-variety sexually transmitted disease. I wore a mask the whole weekend, slept alone in another room and washed my bedding and towels after I used them, but I still ate meals with my family. It should be emphasized that Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for people with monkeypox are for them to isolate at home, away from others, for the duration of their symptoms.

I was examined and tested upon my return to Chicago and isolated at home. Small lesions broke out on my body in addition to the larger ones. The pain from this disease is as awful as has been described — people have compared the symptoms to passing broken glass — and the recovery process is protracted and logistically difficult.

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Unfortunately, my niece got one of the early childhood viral diseases that 2-year-olds get after I left, which resulted in a rash and a panic in Bloomington. There were two calls to pediatricians as I, back in Chicago, wound up calling the Monroe County Health Department for guidance.

I am ashamed of myself for not facing the reality that I could have this disease and coming home anyway. I cannot imagine what I would be going through had I given my niece and nephew, who don’t have fully developed immune systems, this disease. I did not digest one of the great lessons of the COVID-19 pandemic: to stay home when you are feeling sick.

This outbreak will continue spreading until the government’s much-delayed rollout of vaccines reaches everyone who needs them: known contacts of cases and people who are at high risk of contracting the virus, like men who have sex with men who have multiple partners. We know the virus spreads through intimate skin-to-skin contact — predominantly through sex during this outbreak, but also through shared bedding and towels, kissing and hours of face-to-face contact.

People in Bloomington who are at risk should try to get vaccinated. It has spread wildly through networks of Chicago men who have sex with men, including among university students in the city.

I want to say to those who will get it that their symptoms, as profoundly unpleasant as they are, will eventually end. But I also want to urge them to be cautious. Take responsibility to stem the spread, in all your personal interactions.

My family and I dealt with the county health department throughout my ordeal and my niece’s (false) monkeypox scare. Officials are knowledgeable, considerate and thorough. We were all impressed and felt lucky to have such professional individuals giving us guidance. Monroe County does lots of things right, and that is why my family chooses to live there. Bravo.

Aaron Gettinger is a journalist in Chicago; he did the first reporting about monkeypox in that city in May. He grew up in Sullivan County, and his parents, who graduated from Indiana University, moved back to Bloomington in 2015.

This article originally appeared on The Herald-Times: Monkeypox symptoms didn't stop columnist from trip home. He regrets it