A man hospitalized by monkeypox says he couldn't swallow his own spit and feared he would die

A man hospitalized by monkeypox says he couldn’t swallow his own spit and feared he would die

  • A man in his thirties with severe monkeypox said he needed hospital treatment for 11 days.
  • Harun Tulunay said his throat was so painful he was unable to swallow his own spit.
  • Pregnant people, kids, and those with weakened immune systems, may be at risk of severe monkeypox.

A man hospitalized by monkeypox for almost two weeks told Insider that he couldn’t swallow his own spit and feared he would die.

Monkeypox usually causes a mild illness with most people recovering within a few weeks without treatment.

But Harun Tulunay, a 35-year-old charity worker in the UK, spent 11 days in hospital, with what doctors told him was one of the most severe monkeypox cases they had treated. 

Pregnant people, kids under 8 years old, those with eczema, and people with weakened immune systems may be at risk of severe monkeypox. Tulunay has HIV, which can damage cells in the immune system, but he said blood tests suggest he had a robust immune system at the time of his monkeypox infection.

Dr. Jason Zucker, an infectious disease specialist working in New York who was not involved in Tulanay’s case, told  The New York Times that, “for a percentage of people it is much more worse than I would have anticipated,” but it’s unclear why.

Tulunay is one of 2,137 confirmed monkeypox cases in the UK since an unusual outbreak across at least 50 countries started in May. Most cases in the UK are in London, where Tulunay, who is gay, lives and where he thinks he caught it after kissing someone. In the US, there were 2,323 confirmed cases as of Wednesday, spread across 43 states, Washington DC, and Puerto Rico states but mostly concentrated in New York. No one has died of the disease in either country. 

A high number of cases are among gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But anyone can catch it from having close contact with an infected person, or touching contaminated items such as bedding. As Insider’s Hilary Brueck previously reported: it is not a “gay disease.” 

Tulunay said the pain felt like flesh being ripped from his bones 

Tulunay starting feeling unwell on June 13, with a mild fever that he thought was COVID-19, but tests were negative.

Over the next 24 hours, he developed excruciating pain throughout his body that felt “like ripping off your flesh from your bones.” 

After five days, he had fevers of more that 103°F, swollen glands, and a sore throat. Tulunay said, despite a heatwave in London, he slept with four blankets and got heat rash from the fevers.

Tulunay took excessive doses of paracetamol and ibuprofen as well as other drugs that he had at home that he hoped could help: antibiotics, hayfever tablets, and over-the-counter sleeping pills. Nothing worked.

He also noticed a painless, pimple-like spot on his nose, but didn’t think much of it.

Harun Tulunay heat rash

Tulunay said he got a heat rash from his high fevers.

Harun Tulunay


Four days later, Tulunay had a monkeypox test and a medical review for any other illness that could cause his symptoms at his local hospital, as the test results didn’t come back straight away. 

The doctors discharged him the same day with antibiotics for tonsillitis. A nurse called daily to check on him, but over the next three days his throat became so painful and swollen that he couldn’t eat, drink or swallow his own spit.

‘I thought I was going to die”

After Tulunay told the nurse he couldn’t swallow his spit, she immediately arranged for him to be admitted to hospital, where he was treated with paracetamol and opioid painkillers. 

“A friend called me and I clearly remember I told her that I think I’m gonna die, because nothing is improving,” he said.

Three days after he was admitted to hospital, Tulunay’s test confirmed he had monkeypox, and lesions had appeared on his hands, legs and feet. “My throat and mouth were all covered,” he said, adding that the lesion on his nose got infected.

Tulany nose

One of Tulunay’s monkeypox lesions developed a bacterial infection.

Harun Tulany


Tulunay was transferred to a specialist hospital for treatment with an experimental drug that works for smallpox, a related virus. 

The doctors treated him in hazmat suits to protect themselves and Tulunay said this, and being in his own room, was the worst part of the experience. “I was wondering, am I gonna hug someone again?” he said. 

After another five days in hospital, Tulunay was discharged, and, aside from a scar on his nose, has fully recovered, ending isolation on July 14.

Tulunay said that he didn’t go public with his story to scare people, but to raise awareness so people could be more considerate of others and empowered to look after their own health. 

“Look at me. It took some time, but I’m fine,” he said. 

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