Friday, June 13, 2003

Butler resident may have monkeypox

By Laura Baverman
The Cincinnati Enquirer

A Butler County resident may have contracted monkeypox, the disease that has been transmitted by animals to at least 12 humans nationally. State health officials said late Thursday afternoon that they were also investigating another case, this one in Putnam County in northwest Ohio.

News of the first potential infections in Ohio came on the day that federal officials revealed a Wisconsin nurse might have contracted monkeypox from a patient. That would be the first known case of the disease spreading from one person to another in the United States.

Neither potential patient was identified.

But the Ohio Department of Health said both had been in contact with pets sold by Phil's Pocket Pets in Villa Park, Ill., an exotic animal distributor traced to the outbreak of the disease.

Before Ohio's cases, 54 possible cases had been reported in Indiana, Wisconsin, Illinois and New Jersey.

Both potential victims are expected to recover, Ohio health officials said. Neither is hospitalized but both are being monitored, the officials said.

Even if the cases are confirmed, state officials cautioned that it's unlikely that the disease has spread - because both victims have passed the period of incubation.

Others in contact with the animals linked to the Ohio cases have no symptoms.

"We do not feel that the general public or close contacts of the animals are at risk," said Jay Carey, director of public affairs for the health department.

Although most of the cases in this U.S. outbreak have been traced to prairie dogs, the Butler County victim was exposed to a wallaby owned by a family member. A wallaby is a vegetarian marsupial similar to a kangaroo.

Officials call the Butler County case a suspected case, because the victim had contact with an ill animal and either developed a rash or experienced two symptoms of the disease.

But the case in Putnam County was defined as probable, because the patient had contact with an ill prairie dog (which subsequently died).

The Putnam County patient developed a rash and experienced two symptoms.

Tests on both patients were sent for evaluation to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. But results are not expected until later this month, Carey said.

The state departments of health and agriculture are working with the CDC to track pet prairie dogs in Ohio and to limit the spread of the disease.

Officials believe there are 16 pet prairie dogs in the state and have found 14 so far. Only the one in Putnam County has turned up ill; samples from it also were sent to the CDC for testing.

Meanwhile, the Department of Agriculture will educate retailers about the CDC's rules, instituted Wednesday, prohibiting imports of African rodents to the United States. Officials believe the outbreak started when an African rat infected a prairie dog at the Illinois pet store.

Monkeypox is generally found only in tropical African forests.

The CDC also banned the sale of prairie dogs and recommended smallpox vaccines for people exposed to monkeypox.

"We will continue to check for proper documentation to make sure that animals were brought into Ohio legally," said Melanie Wilt, spokesperson for Ohio Department of Agriculture. "We'll continue to check the animals for signs of illness. We'll continue to trace sales of prairie dogs or other exotic animals to new animals, and we'll continue to follow up on the Department of Health's investigations on human illnesses."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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