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1 Prairie Dog Cited as Pox 'Super-Spreader'

June 15, 2003|From Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. — One prairie dog infected with monkeypox before health officials identified the virus may have been responsible for spreading the disease to half of the human cases in Wisconsin, a state health official said Saturday.

"A lot of people got exposed over time," said Robert Ehlenfeldt, acting state veterinarian. "That exposure would have happened before we knew what we were dealing with."

State epidemiologist Jeff Davis said Friday the prairie dog had been linked to three confirmed human cases, six probable cases, nine suspected cases and a case of monkeypox in a rabbit, which infected one of the humans.

"Clearly a super-spreader if there ever was one," he said.

Ehlenfeldt took a more cautious approach Saturday, saying the prairie dog probably was not more contagious than other prairie dogs with the disease; it just had more contact with humans.

It had been handled by a distributor, a household and two veterinarian clinics before it died, he said.

By Friday, officials had confirmed 12 human cases of the disease: four each in Wisconsin, Indiana and Illinois. Also, 71 possible cases had been reported -- 22 in Indiana, 30 in Wisconsin, 15 in Illinois, two in Ohio and one each in Arizona and Kentucky.

No one has died but at least 14 patients with symptoms have been hospitalized, including a child with encephalitis, or brain inflammation, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The tests used to confirm whether someone has monkeypox take time, and the number of cases has changed as the results have come in.

Two health-care workers who fell ill after treating patients were thought to have contracted monkeypox in what would have been the first human-to-human transmission. But Davis said Friday that no longer appeared to be the case, though the state is still waiting for test results.

"We're not saying anything final until we get those test results," Davis said.

Milwaukee's health commissioner, Dr. Seth Foldy, said about 90 people who have had such contact were notified the vaccine would be available at a clinic Saturday, but no one took advantage of the offer.

The vaccine can prevent the disease for up to two weeks after exposure and is most effective in the first four days.

But some health officials are wary. In rare cases the vaccine can cause serious and even deadly side effects. Davis said there was no need for vaccinations for the general public.

Monkeypox, a west African disease never before seen in the Western Hemisphere, is related to smallpox but is not as lethal.

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