Monkeypox patients open up about excruciating ‘psychological’ distress

A microscopic rendering of the monkeypox virus

Monkeypox may leave more than just physical scars, according to several accounts by patients.

Bichat-Claude Bernard Hospital’s infectious disease specialist, Nathan Peiffer-Smadja, told France24 that research suggests that “psychological distress is linked to several aspects” of the disease.

He said that the distress is linked to the “aesthetic” after-effects of the painful lesions that appear in various parts of the body during monkeypox infection, while the physical exertion that the body is put through during infection periods can also have a long-lasting effect on mental health.

Corentin Hennebert, one of the first known cases in France, spoke about his experiences with the disease to French news agency Agence France-Presse (AFP), saying: “All I could think about was the pain.

“And I’m not the only one, others have contacted me to tell me that they were at the end of their tether, that they were crying all the time.”

Hennebert was one of the rare patients to experience lesions forming on the inside of the anus, which Peiffer-Smadja said can be “extremely painful”.

“I constantly had the impression that razor blades were being thrust into me – I can’t think of any other comparison, [the pain] was so strong,” Hennebert continued.

The 27-year-old reportedly lost 15 pounds in just three days because he was not eating due to the sheer amount of pain he was experiencing.

After recovering from monkeypox, Hennbert became a spokesman for an affirmative action group for former monkeypox patients who are demanding more to be done about the disease.

The stigma surrounding the physical presence of symptoms also brings its own hardships according to the sexual health centre worker, Michel Ohayon, who compared the lesions to those from kaposi sarcoma cancer, a visible “symptom of AIDS”.

“As soon as the disease is visible, it is frightening because it becomes potentially stigmatising,” he said.

The stigma surrounding monkeypox has become a significant catalyst for how it spreads since pundits such as Republican Marjorie Taylor Greene pushed the idea that it is just a “gay disease” to “ignore”.

Organisational bodies such as the World Health Organization have repeatedly hit back against these claims, urging people not to “reinforce homophobic and racist stereotypes that exacerbate stigma” and create an atmosphere of carelessness.

“We have an outbreak that has already spread around the world rapidly through new modes of transmission, about which we understand too little,” WHO director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreysus said in a statement from July. “I know this has not been an easy or straightforward process, and that there are divergent views.”

This has been especially true for LGBTQ+ activist Sebastien Tuller when he began to see lesions on his face, which made him “very anxious”.

“There is a lot of residual homophobia and this has a real impact on mental health,” he said. “Many don’t say they have – or have had – monkeypox, fearing being stigmatised.”