Saturday, June 14, 2003

School warning of virus

Show-and-tell wallaby may have monkeypox

By Janice Morse The Cincinnati Enquirer
and Sue Kiesewetter Enquirer contributor

TRENTON - Officials in Edgewood City Schools spent hours Friday trying to warn parents of about 800 children to watch for signs of the monkeypox virus.

A wallaby's innocent "show-and-tell" visit to a third-grade Bloomfield Elementary School classroom May 27 became cause for concern this week. Officials began to fear that the kangaroo-like animal could have exposed children to monkeypox after a 20-year-old woman, whose family previously owned the wallaby, developed a suspected case of the rare illness.

The unidentified woman had a sore throat and swollen lymph nodes, but had no rash or other symptoms, said Patricia Burg, Butler County Health Department director. The woman was not seriously ill and her case remains unconfirmed pending tests on her blood. The animal's blood also is being tested.

However, the woman's case does bear investigation because she displayed at least two symptoms, Burg said. Also, the wallaby in the woman's family had been purchased via the Internet from Phil's Pocket Pets, an Illinois exotic animal distributor whose prairie dogs have been linked to the recent multistate outbreak of monkeypox. That outbreak, documented just a week ago, is the first in the Western Hemisphere, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The woman's family gave the wallaby, named Scutter, to relatives; they disclosed that the animal had visited the school, Burg said, noting both Trenton-area families have been cooperative in the investigation.

Burg contacted Edgewood Superintendent Tom York. On Friday, he ordered a team of administrators to start making phone calls until all parents of Bloomfield students were notified. The schoolwide notifications were being done even though only about 30 students were in the third-grade classroom that the wallaby visited.

"We decided to be upfront and honest and make sure everyone knew what was going on," said John Snyder, Edgewood's school board president.

By 3 p.m. Friday, the district had contacted most parents and posted a notice on the school's Web site,

Though York said most parents are thankful to receive the information, the phone call left a mother of three, Kathy McAdams, concerned.

She phoned her 8-year-old daughter, Kaelyn, to see if she had seen the wallaby. Kaelyn reminded her mom she was home sick the day the animal came to her third-grade classroom, so she had no contact with it.

McAdams said she felt some relief to learn that. Still, she noted that all three of her children have colds right now and, "It makes me a little nervous, because I don't know if it (monkeypox virus) is airborne or how it is spread."

The CDC says humans can catch monkeypox from an infected animal's bite, lesions or bodily fluids. The disease is much less infectious than smallpox, but can spread from person to person, possibly via the respiratory tract.

Because of the recent outbreak, federal authorities have halted importation of all rodents from Africa, and also banned all sales of prairie dogs and six specific rodent species within the United States.

Burg said the Butler County wallaby, which was delivered April 21, came without documentation of its origins or where it had traveled.

About monkeypox

What is monkeypox? Monkeypox is a rare viral disease that occurs mainly in the rain forest countries of central and west Africa. First discovered among laboratory monkeys in 1958, the virus also has been found in a number of African rodents. It was first reported in humans in 1970.

What is its status in the United States? Prior to this month's report of the disease in the United States, community-acquired monkeypox had never been reported outside of Africa. It is unclear how monkeypox arrived in the U.S., but investigators theorize that infected prairie dogs may have contracted the illness from Gambian giant rats, African rodents that were housed along with the prairie dogs. As of Thursday, 62 people with suspected monkeypox had been reported in Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana and New Jersey; nine cases had been confirmed; some of the suspected cases required hospitalization.

What are the symptoms? Fever, headache, muscle aches, backache, swollen lymph nodes, general discomfort, exhaustion. Within days, there may be a rash, often first on the face. The virus may incubate for about 7 to 17 days before signs appear; the illness typically lasts 2-4 weeks. In Africa, the illness is fatal in 1 percent to 10 percent of cases.

How do people get it? From contact with an infected animal's bite, lesions or bodily fluids; from an infected person's respiratory droplets or possibly contact with bodily fluids or virus-contaminated objects such as bedding or clothing.

What is the treatment? There is currently no proven, safe treatment, although smallpox vaccine has been reported to reduce the risk of monkeypox among previously vaccinated persons in Africa. Persons who come in close contact with confirmed animal or human cases of monkeypox should be vaccinated within 14 days of exposure.

What should a person do if he fears having been exposed? Contact your doctor and your state or local health department. The Butler County Health Department has set up a hotline: (513) 863-1770.

Where can I obtain more information? Web site or call the Centers for Disease Control public response hotline: (888) 246-2675.Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Butler County Health Department


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