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

  • A man in his 30s with severe monkeypox said he needed hospital treatment for 11 days.
  • Harun Tulunay said his throat was so painful he couldn’t swallow his own spit.
  • Pregnant people, kids, and those with weakened immune systems may be at risk of severe monkeypox.

A man hospitalized for monkeypox for almost two weeks told Insider 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 the 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 said blood tests suggested 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 Tulunay’s case, told The New York Times that “for a percentage of people it is much more worse than I would have anticipated” but that 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 of the disease as of Wednesday, spread across 43 states, Washington, DC, and Puerto Rico 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 started feeling unwell on June 13 with a mild fever that he thought was from 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,” he said.

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

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

He also noticed a painless pimplelike 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 got a monkeypox test at his local hospital and a medical review for any other illness that could cause his symptoms, as the test results didn’t come back right 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, he said 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 the 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 going to die because nothing is improving,” he said.

Three days after he was admitted to the 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.

Tulunay's infected nose with raised yellow bumps around a discolored hole

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

Harun Tulunay


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 going to hug someone again?'” he said. 

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

Tulunay said 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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