INDIANAPOLIS — Cases of monkeypox continue to climb across the country and here in Indiana.
The CDC reports as of July 29 there are 5,189 confirmed cases nationwide.
Among them is James Ferguson of Indianapolis. He's been quarantined, isolating in his home for four weeks.
Ferguson describes the disease as extremely painful and said his experience getting tested, diagnosed and treated was daunting in late June.
Ferguson is one of 49 Hoosiers diagnosed with the virus since June 18.
The outbreak is affecting mostly men, particularly men who have sex with men, but anyone can get the monkeypox virus. Women and children have had positive cases, as well. It's spread by close physical contact.
Ferguson's symptoms were mild at first. The sores on his skin were small.
"I noticed I just wasn't feeling myself, and really it started out more like a mental fog and fatigue. Then I thought I'd been bit by chiggers or bugs or something. I mean it's Indiana, I figure oh mosquitos or something," Ferguson said. "And I thought, 'Oh, this looks a little like chickenpox.' And then as soon as I said that, I had the aha moment and thought, 'Oh no.'"
The lesions multiplied. Then headaches and fatigue led to fever and pain.
"So there's three on my face," Ferguson pointed out. "And I've got them on my scalp, back, chest, some on my arms. I mean they're kind of everywhere. And...those hurt," Ferguson said. "I started running a 103-degree fever that I couldn't break with Tylenol or ibuprofen for five days. Throughout that time, a lot of the days, I had just horrendous body aches."
The 32-year-old Indianapolis Christian counselor also encountered hurdles getting tested and treated. He said it took three ER visits to get a diagnosis.
"If I would have been tested the first time and it came back positive, it would have dramatically changed the way this could have been treated, and I would not have the symptoms I have now," Ferguson said.
He's right. Early detection can lead to better outcomes.
Madison Weintraut, assistant administrator of infectious disease with the Marion County Health Department, said monkeypox has been a learning curve for doctors and health care providers.
A lot has changed, even since Ferguson got tested at the end of June.
"I can say in the last month, we've seen extreme improvements," she said.
Weintraut recommends calling your primary doctor or the health department as soon as you notice symptoms or a new-onset rash.
In positive cases, close contacts can get vaccines to stop the spread and even prevent the person from getting sick.
"If we give it within four days, we can prevent illness. If we give it within 14 days of last exposure we can reduce the severity of illness," Weintraut explained.
That happened with Ferguson.
"When they did get the confirmation test, they were really good about providing the vaccine to anybody I'd been in contact with," he said.
Now recovering, he wants to help others stay healthy and encourages people to advocate for their own care.
"That's a hopeful thing for others who may be getting this is that treatment is there," Ferguson said. "Definitely go to your provider. Insist they treat you. If you don't feel right, you have a rash, make them test you. And if it comes back negative and you still feel bad, make them re-test you because it can take multiple times to get a diagnosis."
Vaccine right now is limited. Federal officials admit demand is outpacing supply. But Indiana is expecting more shipments soon from the Department of Health and Human Services.
The plan is to eventually give it to at-risk groups as a form of prevention, as well.
In fact, the Marion County Health Department says people interested in receiving vaccine as it becomes available can sign up for notification here, under "Where can I go to get a vaccine?"