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Monkeypox Detected For First Time in Americas, At Least 20 Ill

By Lawrence K. Altman

and Jodi Wilgoren

the New York Times -- Monkeypox, a viral disease related to smallpox but less infectious and less deadly, has been detected for the first time in the Americas with at least 20 cases reported in three Midwestern states, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Sunday.

Wisconsin reported 18 cases; Illinois and Indiana had one each. The patients ranged in age from 4 to 48 and became ill between May 15 and June 3. All had had direct or close contact with ill prairie dogs, which have become common household pets and which might have caught monkeypox from another species, possibly Gambian giant pouched rats, which are imported as pets from West or Central Africa, where the disease has long occurred. Monkeypox in Africa is carried mainly by squirrels, but named after monkeys because it often kills them.

Several patients in the American outbreak work for veterinarians or pet stores that sold prairie dogs and Gambian rats. No patients have died and four have been hospitalized. Laboratory tests performed at the diseases center in Atlanta on Sunday confirmed that the patients had been infected with the monkeypox virus, which belongs to the same Orthopox family that includes the viruses that cause smallpox and chickenpox.

The monkeypox patients typically fell ill with signs and symptoms like fever, headaches, dry cough, swollen lymph nodes, chills and drenching sweats, Wisconsin health officials said. From one to 10 days later, the patients developed rashes consisting of blisterlike pimples that filled with pus, broke open, and that later produced scabs. The rash often erupted in different stages, or crops, as it appeared on the head, trunk and arms and legs. Monkeypox lesions can scar the skin like smallpox or chickenpox.

Most monkeypox patients became ill four to 12 days after exposure to a sick animal, but the incubation period may have been as long as 20 days.

The diseases agency issued a health alert about monkeypox on Saturday night in part out of its concern that doctors who had treated the cases had initially mistaken some for smallpox and chickenpox, said Dr. Stephen M. Ostroff, a CDC epidemiologist.

Another concern was quickly alerting the public because the cases had occurred so recently and because more people could be infected from diseased animals, which had been sold in recent days.

By quickly identifying the animals that can be infected with monkeypox, health officials hope to eliminate them before the disease becomes endemic in this country and in the Americas, Ostroff said. For this and other reasons, CDC advised people not to release live animals suspected of being infected with monkeypox into the wild.