In late May, not long after he’d gotten through a mild bout of COVID-19, Peter Kelly spiked a sudden fever. He quickly realized it wasn’t the tail end of a COVID infection.
Over a period of several days, the Toronto resident became exhausted, and his muscles began to ache. His temperature oscillated between chills and night sweats. Then, strange sores started to appear on different parts of his body — eventually around two dozen that he could see, mostly on his legs, and painful ones hidden from view in his rectum.
As a professional dancer, Kelly is used to pain. He’s been injured a lot — most recently, a broken rib that’s still healing — and has serious eczema, a skin condition that can cause an itchy or burning sensation.
But Kelly had never experienced something as excruciating as the unexplained lesions emerging on sensitive areas of his body.
“This was on another level,” he later recalled. “You can’t control it. It feels like razor blades in a way, shocking you constantly.”
What followed was nearly a month of tests, three emergency room trips, one infected sore, and finally, a lab-confirmed diagnosis: Monkeypox virus or, as it’s known throughout the scientific community, MPXV.
“The physical aspect of what I went through was pretty bad, for certain moments. But what I realized was the mental health aspect of all of this was probably the main thing I was dealing with,” he said.
“It’s such a long quarantine period.”
He’s not the only one facing pain, uncertainty and what can be a period of weeks-long isolation.
More than 200 Canadians and counting have been infected with MPXV as a result of a global outbreak that began in May. It’s a virus known for long-lasting, often painful symptoms, and people are contagious until they recover.
Physicians, advocates, and health officials are now calling for more financial and housing support to ensure people can quarantine safely, if needed, for weeks on end — with COVID offering some key lessons on how to handle this emerging public health emergency.
“Many folks during that long period, if they’re forced to isolate, are not going to be able to go to work, are not going to be able to pay their bills, pay the rent, put food on the table,” said Dr. Darrell Tan, an infectious diseases specialist who has treated multiple patients with MPXV at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto.
“And these very, very real challenges that people face, because of their willingness to adhere to public health principles, is something that I think we, as a society, have to take responsibility for.”