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Monkeypox Detected in Four People in Wisconsin

Aired June 9, 2003 - 19:43   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm sure you've heard about this monkeypox by now. For the first time ever in the Western Hemisphere, health officials have confirmed monkeypox infection in humans.
Now human infection by this smallpox relative has occurred before, but rarely and generally only in Africa. So how did it happen in Milwaukee? That is the question.

CNN's Jeff Flock's been tracking the viral trail.


JEFF FLOCK, CNN CHICAGO BUREAU CHIEF (voice-over): These are newborn pet rats in Milwaukee now under quarantine, along with dozens of other small animals, as officials seek to stop the spread of a disease they first thought was smallpox.

(on camera): Had you ever heard of this before? Monkeypox?


FLOCK (voice-over): Mike Hoffer, who runs one of the biggest pet stores in America, never heard of it because monkeypox never appeared in the Western Hemisphere before.

But Hoffer sold pet prairie dogs that were carrying the disease, which is actually more akin to chicken pox. And it has now apparently jumped to more than 30 humans.

DR. STEVE OSTROFF, CDC DEPUTY DIRECTOR: There have been no fatalities. Patients are in various stages of recovery.

FLOCK: The Centers for Disease Control believe the prairie dogs came from here, a store called Phil's Pocket Pets, outside Chicago. That's where they think they came into contact with a giant Gambian rat that was infected.

ERIC STAHGARDT, PET STORE WORKER: As far as I understand it, I could be first person to contract it in the U.S.

FLOCK: This man worked at Phil's Pocket Pets. He's already recovered.

STAHGARDT: It just looks like a little scar. Nothing serious. I got maybe a dozen or a little more than that. But it was a lot more severe than the chicken pox. FLOCK: Health officials say the disease has spread to Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana. But a doctor at a Milwaukee hospital that has treated seven cases says there is no reason to panic.

DR. CHARLES EDMISTON, FROEBTERT HOSPITAL: The fact that you may have neighbors who have prairie dogs who have had them for years does not suggest that you are at risk.

FLOCK: But health officials are taking no chances.

(on camera): In addition to prairie dogs, right now you can't even buy any of these rats or gerbils or hamsters, any furry animals here, even though they didn't come into contact with the sick prairie dogs.

(voice-over): The store is now trying to trace all its prairie dog sales.

(on camera): Have you ever had any problems with any kind of disease with prairie dogs before?


FLOCK: Nothing?

HOFFER: No, and I've been carrying them for about 10 years.

FLOCK (voice-over): And CDC officials add there is no evidence that those infected ready spreading the disease to other humans.

I'm Jeff Flock, CNN, Milwaukee.


COOPER: Well, monkeypox is hardly first virus to make the leap from species to species and land in homo sapiens nor is it likely to be the last, sorry to say. The scientists are racing to figure out why it happens as often as it does and how to stop it.

Dr. Steven Ostroff is the deputy director of the National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and he joins us now from the CDC.

Dr. Ostroff, thanks for being with us. We do seem to be seeing this....

OSTROFF: Good to be here.

COOPER: .... an awful lot lately. SARS, which is believed to have been started in animals, this monkey virus, West Nile virus, HIV and the like -- and there are others out there. Why now? Why -- why is this happening?

OSTROFF: Well, you know, we really live in an era of emerging infectious diseases. And there are a lot of things that have changed over time that sort of predispose to humans coming in contact with viruses that they may not necessarily have seen or that don't naturally occur where they live.

If you look at the SARS situation, that certainly seems like a situation that was promoted by international travel. With the current situation with monkeypox, it looks like probably international movement of animals is probably going to be very important in terms of what actually happened, although it's important to say we're very early in the investigations and there are a number of potential hypotheses as to how it got here.

COOPER: So in a sense, these emerging viruses are emerging because the world is developing. Because as you say, it's getting smaller in the sense that people are traveling. Also, I guess, traditional communities are expanding and fringing upon forest areas that used to be, you know, a safe haven, if you will -- perhaps not the right terminology -- but for these viruses.

OSTROFF: Right, and I think that what we're beginning to discover is that things in the past that would seem to be us to be extremely exotic now can go from one location to another with basically the speed of an aircraft.

COOPER: If a lot of these things aren't -- are just becoming known to scientists now, there must be a lot of other viruses out there which we don't even know about.

OSTROFF: Well, there are indeed probably many, many viruses out there which we haven't recognized as causing disease in humans or don't even know that they exist out there. And there is obviously a lot more different viruses that occur in other parts of the world, which could do the exact same thing that West Nile did and can certainly do the exact same thing that monkeypox appears to have done.

So, you know, that's why it is very important for us to sort of keep our guard up and do what we can to be able to recognize these emerging diseases as early as possible, because certainly with the monkeypox situation, we're very hopeful that if we can do a very good job in terms of tracking down the animals and reducing the likelihood that people will be exposed to animals that are sick or ill, that hopefully we'd be able to contain this and we won't find that similar to what happened with West Nile a couple of years ago that this will be quite happy finding a new home here in North America and set up what we call indigenous transmissions, so that it would be an ongoing problem.

COOPER: Yes. Let's hope it has been caught in time. Dr. Steven Ostroff, appreciate you joining us. Thank you very much.

OSTROFF: Thanks very much.


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