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Woman in Delta flight scare says she had bedbug bites, not monkeypox

April 27, 2012|By Amina Khan, Los Angeles Times / For Booster Shots
  • Two healthy prairie dogs at the Columbian Park Zoo in Lafayette, Ind. In 2003, pet prairie dogs passed the monkeypox virus to humans, the virus' first reported U.S. outbreak.
Two healthy prairie dogs at the Columbian Park Zoo in Lafayette, Ind. In… (Tom Leininger / The Journal…)

Bedbugs can drive people out of house and home. Turns out they have the power to stop a plane too.

A Minnesota woman’s apparent case of bug bites caused a health scare that grounded a Delta Airlines flight at Chicago’s Midway airport after the bites were mistaken for a monkeypox infection.

Lise Sievers, 50, had called her mother in Indiana during her flight’s layover in Detroit and mentioned that one of the children she had just visited in Uganda (in hopes of adopting) had suffered from pus-filled red bumps. In the same conversation, according to the Chicago Tribune, she also mentioned she had some small bumps of her own — ones that were not pus-filled, but that she said were probably the result of bedbugs.

It seems something was lost in translation, because Sievers’ mother called a local hospital to ask about treatments for pus-filled bumps, mentioned Uganda and the next thing Sievers knew, her flight was surrounded by ambulances and fire vehicles — quarantined as soon as it hit Midway’s tarmac.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suspected monkeypox because it occurs mainly in  Africa, especially the western and central areas. Although it can infect a number of mammals, including rats, mice, rabbits — and even pet prairie dogs, which passed the virus on to humans in 2003, in the first reported U.S. outbreak — monkeypox is so named because it was first found in laboratory monkeys in 1958.

Monkeypox is a relative to smallpox virus, but its symptoms are far less severe. Monkeypox can induce fever, headache, muscle aches and cause the lymph nodes to swell. Within a few days of the fever onset, a rash starts to form — often on the face — and spreads to other parts of the body. It can take two to four weeks to recover.

As for how deadly the disease is, the CDC points out that monkeypox has reportedly killed 1% to 10% of those infected — but in all likelihood, the risk of death would be far lower in the U.S., with comparatively better nutrition and medical care.

Follow me on Twitter @aminawrite.

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