A Toronto Man Who Had Monkeypox In The Spring Says He's Still Dealing With Complications

"I had an excruciatingly painful experience."

Peter Kelly. Right: CN Tower.

Peter Kelly. Right: CN Tower.

Peter Kelly, a 28-year-old professional dancer and personal trainer in Toronto, contracted monkeypox in late May and says he's still dealing with painful complications months after the illness.

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"I had an excruciatingly painful experience," Kelly told Narcity.

Monkeypox is a "rare viral illness," according to Public Health Ontario , which recently reported that there have been 478 confirmed cases in Ontario this year between May 20 and August 8.

Symptoms of the illness include "fever, headache, swollen lymph nodes and lethargy, followed by the development of a rash over a person's body."

Early symptoms

Kelly, whose pronouns are he/they, says they started experiencing symptoms toward the end of May , just after recovering from a case of COVID-19, and at first, they thought it may have just been the lingering effects of their illness.

A few days later, however, their fever, swollen lymph nodes, muscle aches, sweats and chills began to develop into sores.

The zoonotic disease can be spread "through direct contact with the bodily fluids or lesions of infected animals or people, via respiratory droplets from an infected person, or from mother to fetus," according to Public Health Ontario.

Kelly believes they contracted the illness from attending a bathhouse in Toronto.

However, monkeypox wasn't as widely known about at this time, and Kelly initially thought they may have contracted an STI.

On July 23, the World Health Organization declared that the "multi-country outbreak of monkeypox constitutes a Public Health Emergency of International Concern ."

Finding a diagnosis

Kelly says he visited a PrEP clinic and another STI clinic, where he was tested for STIs before finally ending up in the hospital.

"I wasn't getting the answers I wanted. No one really knew what was going on," said Kelly. "No one suspected monkeypox because it was so new at that point."

The last clinic suspected he might have herpes or shingles, but Kelly wasn't convinced.

"It was just like little red marks, mostly all in my genital region for me. So that could really be herpes, but then within 24 hours, it progressed a lot more, and then I said, 'I have a feeling it's not herpes. It's something else.'"

On June 4, Kelly went to a hospital and was tested for monkeypox, where he tested positive. He returned the next day for pain medication.

Kelly says his experience with monkeypox has been especially painful due to the location of his sores.

"I think some people don't have the same experience I have, but if you have them in a very specific area like down your throat or inside your rectum, you know, in those areas, it can be really excruciating."

Most of Kelly's sores were in his rectum, and he described the pain as a "throbbing" sensation that never allowed him to get comfortable. Plus, he says it disrupted his bowel movements.

Kelly was quarantined until around June 21, but unfortunately, his suffering didn't end there. When he was cleared for monkeypox, Kelly got sick with COVID-19 again, which forced him back into quarantine.

Lingering effects & homophobia

Despite testing negative for monkeypox, Kelly said they are still suffering from swollen tissue in the rectum and having difficulty returning to the basics of normal life — from bowel movements to sex.

"It's embarrassing, I can't really have any penetrative sex right now, and that's what I like to do. So, it's hard on my mental health aspect of things because I feel fine in many ways, but then I just can't have anal sex at all."

Kelly tried to talk with a proctologist about the issue but says they didn't feel comfortable having Kelly coming into the office for fear of possible spread, even though they were testing negative for the illness.

Instead, Kelly says the proctologist offered to refer them to another doctor and prescribe them a suppository medication. After weeks of waiting, Kelly is set to see a specialist next week.

Kelly has publicly spoken about monkeypox but says that their openness has been met with homophobic comments, messages and emails.

"Honestly, I just think we need to recognize it isn't only a gay thing. It can happen to anyone. It just happens to be spreading more commonly currently with men that have sex with men," Kelly shared.

Monkeypox can be spread to anyone regardless of gender or sexuality; however, Toronto Public Health notes that this current outbreak is impacting bisexual and gay men the most.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

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Brooke Houghton
Brooke Houghton is a contributing writer for Narcity Media based in Toronto, Ontario.