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West Hartford man shares monkeypox experience as state begins vaccinations

Johnny Rivera tested positive for the disease in July. While he wishes vaccines would have been available sooner, he encourages people to get protected.

WEST HARTFORD, Conn. — Johnny Rivera is one of 39 people who have tested positive for monkeypox in Connecticut as of Tuesday.

The West Hartford resident said his partner told him on July 13th that he was suspected of having the disease. Rivera was put in quarantine. Shortly after that, Rivera's symptoms started to appear. He tested positive two days later. It mostly began with a fever, severe exhaustion, aches, and swollen lymph nodes. Towards the end of the first week, a breakout of pimple-like sores began to appear on his body.

"I’m on day 20 of quarantine right now, and it’s looking like it’s going to be another week or two still," he said.

RELATED: Yes, monkeypox can spread by trying on clothing or changing bed sheets

The CDC says the illness usually starts up to three weeks from exposure. If someone has flu-like symptoms, the rash will likely develop within a few days. It can last up to four weeks until the rash has healed, the scabs have fallen off, and a new layer of skin has formed.

Credit: Johnny Rivera
Johnny Rivera tested positive for monkeypox in July and has developed pimple-like sores on his body including his left arm.

Rivera said he mentally prepared himself to be in quarantine for weeks. 

Connecticut opened 13 monkeypox vaccination clinics across the state Monday with more expected to open. Rivera wishes it would have come sooner. JYNNEOS doses have been allocated to hard-hit areas. Nationwide, there are more than 6,326 cases and in Connecticut, 39 according to the CDC. Nearby New York has more than 1,600. New York City received nearly 46,000 vaccine doses by July 27th. Connecticut received about 1,800. 

While Rivera understands prioritizing more impacted areas, he says Connecticut shouldn't be overlooked.

"There are a lot of people who are kind of upset with the fact that vaccine rollout didn’t come sooner, that we waited for numbers," he said. "Connecticut is this transient place between those two cities. A lot of gay men frequent Provincetown. A lot of people visit New York City."

To be eligible for vaccination in Connecticut, someone has to have come in contact with or been exposed to someone with the disease and not experiencing symptoms. People with symptoms are advised to speak with a health care provider as the CDC says vaccination is "not expected to provide benefit."

RELATED: State to open monkeypox vaccine clinics Monday

Those at least 18, a state resident, have had multiple sexual partners within two weeks, and are a man who has sex with other men also qualify.

Rivera says this has been met with confusion. He said he knows of someone who identifies as a man but could not get a vaccine because their birth certificate said otherwise. He's also aware of people in professions like massage therapists who are unsure if they qualify. He recommends people get vaccinated if they can.

"The specifics being so detailed kind of does a disservice to the community," he said. "If you’re not fitting eligibility criteria, which is the majority of people, then I would recommend refraining from engaging in any anonymous sexual acts or anything that’s going to expose you."

New York, California, and Illinois have all declared monkeypox a public health emergency. Rivera is glad to see cases in Connecticut remain relevantly low compared to other states. The CDC reports Massachusetts has 134 and Rhode Island has 23 as of Tuesday.

RELATED: Health experts and LGBTQ+ activists raise awareness for monkeypox

The disease spreads from direct contact with the infectious rash, scab, or body fluid. It can also pass by touching items the infected person's rash or fluid touched. It can be passed down from mother to baby through pregnancy. Monkeypox can also be spread through respiratory secretions "during prolonged, face-to-face contact, or during intimate physical contact, such as kissing, cuddling, or sex," the state says.

The clinics open in Connecticut are below. They require an appointment. More are expected to open in Bridgeport, Willimantic, and Norwich.

  • Anchor Health Initiative: 2200 Whitney Ave, Ste 290, Hamden, CT 06518 
  • Circle Care Center: 618 West Avenue, Norwalk, CT 06850 
  • Community Health and Wellness Center: 469 Migeon Ave, Torrington Ct 06790 
  • Community Health Center of Clinton: 114 East Main Street, Clinton, CT 06413
  • Community Health Center of Danbury: 8 Delay Street, Danbury, CT 06810  
  • Community Health Center of Enfield: 5 N Main Street, Enfield, CT 06082 
  • Community Health Center of Middletown: 675 Main Street, Middletown, CT 06457 
  • Community Health Center of New London: 5 Shaw’s Cove, New London, CT 06320 
  • Community Health Center of Stamford: 141 Franklin St, Stamford, Ct 06901
  • Fair Haven Community Health Care: 374 Grand Avenue, New Haven CT 06513  
  • Hartford Gay & Lesbian Health Collective: 1841 Broad Street, Hartford, CT 06114 
  • Intercommunity, Inc: 16 Coventry St, Hartford, CT, 06112 
  • Staywell Health Center: 80 Phoenix Avenue, Waterbury, CT 06702

Scientists are still trying to determine if it can transfer from someone without symptoms and how often it's spread through respiratory secretions. There are currently no treatments for the rare disease, but antivirals like tecovirimat may be used for people more likely to get severely ill.

Rivera advises people to look out for other alarming symptoms that may develop before the rash as a sign of monkeypox, as in his case.

For testing or to report cases of suspected monkeypox, call CT DPH Epidemiology at 860-509-7994, or 860-509-8000 if after hours. For more on monkeypox in Connecticut, click here.

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