Disease could spread to wild
wolffnm at yahoo.com
Tue Jun 10 07:39:27 EDT 2003
Disease could spread to wild
Don't release exotic animals, officials warn
By MARILYNN MARCHIONE
mmarchione at journalsentinel.com
June 10, 2003
Health officials pleaded Monday with owners of prairie
dogs and other exotic pets not to release them into
the wild, where they could spread monkeypox to rabbits
and squirrels and possibly give the virus a permanent
foothold in the United States.
Officials also worried that house mice might be able
to catch the illness from infected prairie dogs and
spread it to wildlife.
"Until I know more about what the susceptible animals
are . . . house mice, field mice . . . I'd certainly
have concern about any rodents," said Wisconsin's
chief medical officer, epidemiologist Jeffrey P.
Davis. "We're talking about indoor environments and
Kurt Reed, the Marsh-field Clinic microbiologist who
first tentatively identified the virus, said: "What we
don't want this to do is become endemic in North
America. We have to determine if this has gotten
outside of the domestic setting."
At least 33 suspected cases of monkeypox are now being
investigated in Wisconsin, Indiana and Illinois. Four
have been confirmed through viral DNA tests. Results
are pending on the others, and federal officials say
they expect the vast majority to be positive.
Cases have been linked to a shipment of 25 to 30
prairie dogs sold at two Milwaukee area pet shops and
a swap meet in Wausau. An Illinois distributor housed
the animals with an imported Gambian giant rat, a
species known to be susceptible to monkeypox in
This is the first time the disease has ever been seen
outside African rain forests, according to the U.S.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Containing the virus and eliminating it as a threat
are still possible, officials say. If people no longer
want prairie dogs or other unusual pets, they should
call veterinarians or animal shelters and turn them in
Some of the animals linked to the outbreak have not
been accounted for. All the human cases so far have
developed after direct contact with infected prairie
"A lot of the information is quite preliminary at this
point. We don't know how many animals or humans are
involved," said Stephen Ostroff, deputy director of
CDC's National Center for Infectious Diseases. "For
the average citizen, I would not necessarily be
concerned at this point about being exposed to
monkeypox. . . . We're working very hard to make sure
that we can contain the problem."
Eighteen of the cases being investigated are in
Wisconsin, where the outbreak was first recognized
last week. Indiana has 10 possible cases and Illinois
"The patients are in various stages of recovery,"
Seven people were hospitalized. Six remain in the
hospital, including three in satisfactory condition at
Froedtert Memorial Lutheran Hospital in Wauwatosa.
"We do not have any evidence to suggest
person-to-person transmission, though we continue to
look into that possibility," because such transmission
has occurred in Africa, Ostroff said.
"We don't have all the answers" on how the virus is
spread, he said. "It appears that simply handling the
prairie dog was sufficient to cause people to become
Many of the animals had respiratory symptoms, making
it possible that the disease was spread through the
air, he said. Monkeypox appears to be far less easily
spread than smallpox or influenza.
No one has died or become gravely ill in this
outbreak, but in Africa, where malnutrition and so
many other health problems exist, mortality has been
as high as 10%, especially in children.
"We have to always keep in mind that experience in one
location does not necessarily indicate what might
happen when a pathogen like this is introduced into a
new location," Ostroff said.
One of the disturbing things learned from the outbreak
is that smallpox immunizations, which were routine
until the 1970s, apparently do not necessarily protect
against monkeypox now. The monkeypox outbreak is the
first "natural experiment" to test how much protection
those old shots still offer. They were received by
about half of American adults alive today.
Steve Kautzer, 38, one of three members of a
Dorchester, Wis., family infected with monkeypox, had
such a smallpox shot, but that didn't give him
immunity to monkeypox, officials said.
Nevertheless, research suggests smallpox vaccine may
help protect against monkeypox, though the duration of
protection isn't known.
The CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization
Practices, a group of experts who guide policy on
vaccines, is considering making smallpox vaccine
available to people who may have been exposed to
prairie dogs or Gambian rats and therefore might be at
risk to contract monkeypox.
The U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious
Diseases in Fort Detrick, Md., has been researching
monkeypox because of smallpox vaccine implications and
the threat of bioterrorism and has been working with
CDC to study the current monkeypox outbreak.
Wisconsin and Illinois have issued emergency orders
banning the sale, display or swapping of prairie dogs
because of the outbreak. The CDC's Ostroff said the
exotic pet industry is regulated by the U.S.
Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Fish and
>From the June 10, 2003 editions of the Milwaukee
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