A vet who contracted monkeypox during an outbreak in the United States in 2003 has described the “frightening” ordeal of suddenly falling ill before authorities knew what was happening.
Dr. Kurt Zaeske, who is now retired from Wisconsin, said he developed flu-like symptoms and lesions after coming into contact with a prairie dog infected with monkeypox via of a customer.
Neither knew what had made the animal sick.
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“My fear was, ‘Oh my God, is this an exotic disease? I need to figure out what it is,'” Zaeske said.
His symptoms were “very much like the flu,” Zaeske recalls – he was feverish, dizzy, nauseous and tired and had a headache.
Then he started to develop small lesions on his body, including “a significant blister that developed on my thumb and became quite painful”.
A current outbreak of monkeypox has led to the identification of the disease in 15 European countries, as well as the United States, Canada, United Arab Emirates, Australia, and Israel.
The total number of cases outside Africa, where the virus is usually found, has exceeded 200.
Prior to that, the largest outbreak of monkeypox to affect the Western Hemisphere was in 2003, when the United States identified 47 cases.
It was then that Zaeske fell ill. The customer with the prairie dog was an exotic pet breeder who also sold animals to pet stores, Zaeske said.
The rancher told him that he received a shipment of prairie dogs, but some got sick and died. It turned out that the prairie dogs had at some point been exposed to rodents that were spreading the virus.
Zaeske said he prescribed an antibiotic for the animals, but the rancher quickly called him back to say he and his sister were feeling sick themselves.
Zaeske said he contacted a state lab to test prairie dog samples. After handling and euthanizing one of them for this purpose, he himself began to feel unwell.
“Suddenly I started not feeling well. And then, of course, I was very worried because at that time we didn’t know what it was,” he said. declared.
“My biggest fear was losing my thumb and not being able to train anymore,” he added, referring to the injury.
Zaeske was given antibiotics and recovered quickly, he said, although the pain from the lesion on his thumb lasted longer. No one else in his family or staff fell ill.
Eventually, investigators determined that the infected prairie dogs caused an outbreak of monkeypox in humans.
All of the American patients had at some point had contact with prairie dogs, and none died.
Zaeske said the ordeal was “scary to begin with, but also fascinating” to be part of the medical profession.
Because of how much more interconnected the world has become since 2003, he added, “I think we’re probably three or four degrees away from a serious exotic disease.”
“I think you can see it very clearly – any kind of exotic disease can break out now and, you know, spread around the world,” he said.
In this new outbreak, Zaeske said, the world was “lucky” that this strain of monkeypox “tends not to be lethal.”
According to the World Health Organization, about 1% of people with this type of monkeypox have died in the past, compared to up to 10% of people who contracted a different lineage of the virus.
The United States has so far confirmed two cases of monkeypox, one in Massachusetts and one in New York. On Monday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it was investigating four suspected cases: one in New York, one in Florida and two in Utah.
So far, these confirmed and suspected cases have all been in men and are travel-related, CDC officials said.
The California, Florida and Washington health departments also each announced an additional suspected case.
Although more cases are expected to be confirmed, officials noted there was no evidence the virus is spreading widely in the country and added that the United States has a stockpile of vaccines for close contacts. infected patients.
Zaeske said that while the monkeypox outbreak isn’t as bad as the pandemic, “I think it’s a wake-up call to the world that maybe we’re starting to see more of it. And we need to be much more vigilant about monitoring.