Health & Science

Houston man battling monkeypox looks forward to return to normalcy

Local officials requesting more vaccine from federal government as virus begins to slowly spread in Houston area.

Wesley Wallace described it as "horrifying" to look in the mirror.

The Houston resident, while sharing his monkeypox experience Tuesday on Town Square with Ernie Manouse, said he was on day 16 since symptoms started appearing. He still had blisters on his lower lip as well as lesions on some other parts of his body.

But Wallace also said those marks were starting to heal, and he could envision a return to normalcy relatively soon.

"I know it's a stigma. I have it on my social media," he said. "I just have to remember, ‘It's temporary. This isn't me. This is how the virus manifests itself. I'm going to get better.' "

Wallace, who along with a man named Cory from Dallas told Town Square listeners about their monkeypox cases, are among hundreds of Texans affected by a global outbreak of the decades-old virus that has been most common in West Africa. There had been more than 200 cases across the state as of Tuesday, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo says 57 cases were confirmed in the Houston area as of Monday.

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Monkeypox is rarely fatal, according to the CDC, and typically resolves within 2-4 weeks. The CDC said symptoms are similar to smallpox but are milder and can include fever, headache, muscle aches, chills, exhaustion, swollen lymph nodes and a rash that can look like pimples or blisters on the face, inside the mouth and on other parts of the body.

Close or intimate person-to-person contact, such as kissing, cuddling and sex, is a primary means of spreading monkeypox, according to the CDC. The virus also can be spread through contact with infectious rashes, scabs or bodily fluids or with items that are infected, such as clothing and bedding.

Cory, the infected man from Dallas, said he experienced migraine headaches for two or three days before spots began to appear. He said he has twice gone to the emergency room to deal with pain associated with monkeypox, but is "on the mend right now."

"This is not COVID, but definitely something that's going to start putting a strain on our healthcare resources," Dr. Susan McLellan, the medical director for the biocontainment treatment unit at the University of Texas Medical Branch, told Town Square listeners. "It's going to affect a lot of people who didn't think they could be affected. Among those in high-risk groups, it's going to cause a lot of pain and misery and be expensive to deal with, both from a human resources standpoint as well as those who are hospitalized."

There are effective treatments for monkeypox as well as a vaccine – the smallpox vaccine. Hidalgo said mitigating the spread and severity of monkeypox is dependent on making the vaccine more widely available.

Hidalgo said Harris County has received about 5,000 doses of monkeypox vaccine from the federal government and is reserving those doses for those who have been exposed to the virus and are immunocompromised. The county and City of Houston have requested more vaccine doses, Hidalgo said.

"It's just a matter of time before those (case) numbers grow, which is why we want to get more vaccine," Hidalgo said.

Wallace, who is still coping with monkeypox, urged community members to "get a vaccine as soon as one is available to you." He also recommended practicing good hygiene and limiting contact with others who might be affected.

All of the Houston-area monkeypox cases have been in men, according to Hidalgo, who said the virus so far has affected men who have sex with other men. But she also said cases have emerged elsewhere among women and children.

"Just use good common sense in all this," Wallace said. "Anybody could get it."

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