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MONKEYPOX

In June, 2003, U.S. health officials investigated the first outbreak in the Western hemisphere of the "monkeypox" virus, a smallpox-like disease spread by rodents and monkeys that rarely is fatal in humans and may have infected at least 28 people in three Midwest states. Monkeypox is virtually unknown outside of Africa and has never before been found in North America. Symptoms in people are similar to smallpox although monkeypox is less infectious and rarely kills.

If you develop a fever, enlarged lymph nodes and blisters anywhere on your body, look for a small indentation in the middle of the blister. That often-darkened indentation in the center of a blister means that you have small pox, chicken pox, cow pox, swine pox or monkey pox. So far the only North Americans who have developed monkey pox are those who been in contact with prairie dogs or Gambian giant rats in the last three weeks. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that the at prairie dogs at a suburban Chicago pet distributor likely were infected with the virus by a giant Gambian rat, which is found in African countries.

Prairie dogs are wild rodents that dig and live in holes on the North American plains, and are sometimes kept as pets or traded by North America animal dealers. Thirteen of the people suspected of having the virus in Wisconsin were around prairie dogs, while the other apparently contracted it after handling a sick rabbit that had been around a prairie dog. It appears that no one contracted the virus from another person.

Monkeypox in humans is not usually fatal. When the disease first appeared, doctors feared they might be facing smallpox, which causes similar symptoms, but scientists quickly eliminated that possibility after discovering the link between the people and prairie dogs. Monkeypox's incubation period is about 12 days. The human mortality rate in Africa has ranged from one to 10 percent, but the virus may be less lethal in the United States because people here are healthier and can be treated with an antiviral agent originally developed to treat AIDS.

If you were born before 1972, you probably were vaccinated against smallpox, which also protects you against monkeypox. Many different animals can be infected with pox viruses that are very similar to each other. Thirty percent of people who get smallpox will die from it. However, getting monkey pox is very unlikely to kill you and the odds are strong that it will protect you if you are exposed to smallpox in the future.

New York Times, June 9, 2003

Checked 8/9/05

May 30th, 2013
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About the Author: Gabe Mirkin, MD

Sports medicine doctor, fitness guru and long-time radio host Gabe Mirkin, M.D., brings you news and tips for your healthful lifestyle. A practicing physician for more than 50 years and a radio talk show host for 25 years, Dr. Mirkin is a graduate of Harvard University and Baylor University College of Medicine. He is board-certified in four specialties: Sports Medicine, Allergy and Immunology, Pediatrics and Pediatric Immunology. The Dr. Mirkin Show, his call-in show on fitness and health, was syndicated in more than 120 cities. Read More
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