CDC director confident of monkeypox containment

Jun 20, 2003 (CIDRAP News) – Julie Gerberding, MD, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), expressed confidence yesterday that the monkeypox outbreak will be choked off.

"I think we have optimism that this particular outbreak of monkeypox can be contained," Gerberding said during a telephone news conference. "We have so far been able to link human cases to affected animals, and they directly link back to the source that has been described already today," she said, referring to rodents imported from Africa.

"We are seeing fewer and fewer reports of affected people, but it's not over till it's over," she added.

The number of monkeypox cases under investigation has dwindled this week. Two days ago the CDC was reporting a total of 93 suspected and confirmed cases; today the agency's Web site listed 85 cases, including 39 in Wisconsin, 24 in Indiana, 19 in Illinois, and 1 each in Kansas, Missouri, and Ohio. The Illinois Department of Public Health's Web site reported this afternoon that the number of cases there has dropped to 17.

As of yesterday, the CDC had confirmed 20 monkeypox cases with laboratory tests, Gerberding said.

The outbreak, which began in Wisconsin, has been traced to prairie dogs that were sold by an animal distributor in Illinois. The prairie dogs were housed with Gambian giant rats, which often are imported from parts of Africa where monkeypox is endemic, according to the CDC. The rats were traced ultimately to a shipment from Ghana that included about 800 small mammals of nine different species, the CDC reports in the June 20 issue of Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. The article says lab testing is under way to determine which animals from the shipment, if any, might have carried monkeypox into the United States for the first time.

Investigation also has revealed that infected prairie dogs from the Illinois animal distributor might have been sold or traded to unidentified buyers at various animal swap meets in Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio in April and May, the article says.

Gerberding commented, "We must continue to alert pet owners and pet shop owners, and we will continue to work with other partners in the federal government to try to round up all of the affected animals." She also said the Food and Drug Administration will be issuing regulations to help prevent the importation of infected animals.

One of the lab-confirmed monkeypox cases was in a child who was hospitalized with severe encephalitis 3 days after onset of a rash, according to the MMWR report. The report also says that seven children became ill after handling two prairie dogs at a day-care center in Indiana. They were among 12 children who reported handling or petting the prairie dogs, which later got sick and died.

In other developments, the Illinois Department of Public Health announced today that it would offer smallpox vaccine to people who have been exposed to monkeypox. The CDC recommended last week that health officials offer the vaccine to those potentially exposed to monkeypox. Nationally, about 20 people had accepted the offer as of yesterday, according to Gerberding.

See also:

Transcript of Jun 19 CDC news conference

Wisconsin monkeypox page

Illinois Department of Public Health news release on use of smallpox vaccine for people exposed to monkeypox

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