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Monkeypox Appears to Be Waning in the U.S.

After gathering data for three weeks and confirming 29 human cases, federal health officials say the disease seems contained.

June 27, 2003|Allison M. Heinrichs | Times Staff Writer

Three weeks since the first monkeypox case was reported in the United States, the outbreak appears to be waning with only one possible new case reported since Saturday.

Kathy Harben, a spokeswoman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the agency is confident the disease, which has been spread by pet prairie dogs, has been contained. She said the agency does not expect to see a significant number of new cases.

"The number of reported cases has declined, and, as laboratory results come in, we suspect that trend will continue," Harben said.

The most recent suspected case was reported Thursday in Indiana. Health officials there are still investigating the circumstances of the infection.

Health authorities in six states have reported a total of 81 suspected or confirmed monkeypox cases. There have been no deaths, although the CDC reports that two children suspected of having the disease have been hospitalized with serious illnesses.

The potentially fatal viral disease, which is related to smallpox and can lead to swelling of the brain, is believed to have entered the United States through a diseased African Gambian giant rat that subsequently infected a number of prairie dogs. The prairie dogs were sold to pet brokers and pet shops by Phil's Pocket Pets of Villa Park, Ill. The disease was then spread to humans through bites or direct contact with body fluids from infected animals. No cases of human-to-human transmission have been documented.

The first human cases of the outbreak in the United States occurred in May; however, the CDC was not notified until June 4 and did not report it publicly until June 7.

An order from the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration prohibiting the importation of all African rodents and banning the sale, transportation and release into the wild of prairie dogs and six African rodent species will continue indefinitely. To date, there are no indications that monkeypox has spread to wild animals in the United States.

Six states have reported suspected cases of monkeypox, and CDC health officials have confirmed 29 of them. Wisconsin has reported the most confirmed or suspected cases with 40, followed by 21 in Indiana, 16 in Illinois, two in Missouri, and one each in Kansas and Ohio.

On Thursday, health department spokespeople in most of the states expressed confidence that the disease was under control and that the number of cases reported would continue to drop.

"With the information we have available, we do believe it is contained," said Nanci Gonder, spokesperson for the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.

Initial symptoms of the illness include fever, headache, muscle aches, swollen lymph nodes and exhaustion. A rash and pus-filled blisters, often developing first on the face, usually appear one to three days after the onset of fever.

In Africa, where the disease originated, the death rate is as high as 10%. The CDC said the U.S. rate may be lower because of better health care.

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