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For Release:
June 10, 2003

Clifton R. Lacy, M.D.

For Further Information Contact:
Donna Leusner

Department Investigates Suspected Case of Monkeypox


TRENTON – The New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services is investigating a suspected case of monkeypox in an 11-year-old North Jersey boy who was exposed to the virus while out of state, Commissioner Clifton R. Lacy, M.D. announced today.


                The child, who was never hospitalized and is recovering at home, was apparently exposed through contact with two prairie dogs owned by a family friend in a Midwestern state.  There have been 37 patients with suspected monkeypox infection – four of which have been confirmed by testing – in Wisconsin, Indiana and Illinois, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  The source of the infection has been traced to prairie dogs kept as pets.


                “The department was alerted to this patient late yesterday and we immediately began our investigation.  While in New Jersey, the child has had limited contact with people outside his family, and no other suspected infected individuals have been reported,” Dr. Lacy said.


                “The emergence of this suspected case of monkeypox in New Jersey underscores the importance of close collaboration between public health and health care in preparedness for and response to potential health threats,” the Commissioner added.


                While out of state on May 29, the child became ill with a high fever.  He visited a physician, was given antibiotics and his condition improved.  While traveling to New Jersey last week, the child’s fever returned.  He also subsequently developed lethargy, loss of appetite and blisters on his head, arms and trunk.


The child’s mother was alerted to the possibility of monkeypox by a news report.  She contacted a local physician, who examined the child on June 9.  The physician prescribed antiviral medication and sent the child home on isolation precautions.


After being contacted by Midwestern public health officials, the DHSS commenced an investigation.  The DHSS advised the treating physician to sanitize the waiting area and the examination room.  The physician and nurse who came in the contact with the child were advised to monitor themselves for symptoms for the next three weeks.  There were no other known close contacts at the medical office.


The department also asked the mother to monitor the two other family members exposed to the child and to follow the home care guidelines recommended by the CDC. These include keeping the patient in a separate room, barring outside visitors, practicing frequent hand washing and disinfecting contaminated surfaces.


Neither the health care providers who evaluated the child nor the child’s family members have developed symptoms.


                Blood and lesion samples from the child were sent to CDC for testing for monkeypox.  Results are expected in several days.


                “This outbreak illustrates the potential health risks posed by owning and handling exotic animals,” said Dr. Eddy Bresnitz, state epidemiologist and assistant commissioner.  “Prompt reporting of unusual illnesses in people and animals allows for immediate investigation and institution of appropriate control measures to prevent disease transmission.”

          Human monkeypox is a rare, zoonotic, viral disease that occurs mostly in the rain forest countries of Central and West Africa.  The Midwestern prairie dogs may have been infected with the virus by an African rat from a pet distributor in Chicago.

People can contract monkeypox through the bite of an infected animal or through direct contact with the animal’s lesions or body fluids. Monkeypox also can be spread from person to person through respiratory droplets during direct and prolonged face-to-face contact.  It is also possible that monkeypox can be spread by direct contact with the body fluids of an infected person or with virus-contaminated objects, such as bedding or clothing.  In the U.S. outbreak to date, all of the patients with suspected infection had direct contact with infected animals.

In humans, infection with monkeypox virus results in a rash illness similar to but less infectious than smallpox. The incubation period is about 12 days, and the illness lasts from two to four weeks.  Monkeypox in humans is not usually fatal.  There is no treatment.

The CDC is advising physicians to consider monkeypox in persons with fever, cough, headache, myalgia, rash, or enlarged lymph nodes within three weeks of contact with prairie dogs or Gambian giant rats. Veterinarians examining sick exotic animal species, especially prairie dogs and Gambian giant rats, should consider the possibility of monkeypox. Veterinarians should also be alert to the development of illness in other animal species that may have been housed with ill prairie dogs or Gambian giant rats.

For more information, visit the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services web site at, or the CDC’s web site at


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