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The Illinois Department of Public Health confirmed Thursday three suspected cases of monkeypox in DuPage County are in fact the tropical virus.
That brings the number of confirmed cases in Illinois to four with another eight cases listed as probable or suspected. Individuals with visible lesions have been quarantined either in hospitals or homes until the scabs fall off.
All of the Illinois victims had direct contact with a prairie dog infected with the African virus, the easiest way to transmit the disease.
National health officials had downplayed the chance of person- to- person transmission until Wisconsin health officials announced Thursday a health worker may have picked up the virus from an infected patient, the first such instance in the nation. The disease has been known to jump from person to person infrequently in Africa.
Wisconsin state epidemiologist Jeff Davis said the monkeypox virus was not yet confirmed in the worker, who is ill and has been isolated.
Federal health officials have recommended smallpox vaccinations for anyone in contact with infected animals or people or investigating the outbreaks. Vaccinations are effective up to 14 days after exposure. Studies have shown that smallpox vaccination is about 85 percent effective in preventing monkeypox.
But the vaccination recommendation conflicts with earlier directions given to local heath departments by the state.
DuPage County hasn't had anyone seeking the vaccination yet. Even if people come forward for a shot, health officials say they won't administer it until they get some legal and medical questions answered. The state health department, as part of its bioterrorism preparedness plan, has approved the shots only for public health workers, not the general public.
The vaccinations have caused heart attacks in some recipients and come with warnings for people with a variety of ailments including eczema, diabetes, high cholesterol or those planning to get pregnant.
"Right now my staff has a lot of medical questions," said Leland Lewis, executive director of the DuPage County Health Department.
Since the announcement last weekend of the first monkeypox outbreak in the Western Hemisphere, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed a total of nine human cases of the disease - four in Wisconsin, four in Indiana and one in Illinois. Fifty-four possible cases have been reported - 25 in Indiana, 17 in Wisconsin, 11 in Illinois and one in New Jersey. No one in the United States has died of the disease.
"In Africa, the mortality rate from monkeypox has been between 1 and 10 percent. So that is, I think, a figure that we should be, in essence, anticipating in this country," said David Fleming, deputy CDC director. However, better nutrition and medical care could ease the mortality rate in this country, he added.
Kane County resident Eric Stargardt was diagnosed with the virus Saturday and recovered. He was the lone employee of Phil's Pocket Pets in Villa Park, a home-based exotic animal store thought by health officials to be ground zero for the outbreak.
DuPage teens Julian Glenn, 17, of Warrenville, Melissa Tenerelli, 18, of Glen Ellyn, and Nathan Nicholas, 18, of Warrenville, were all admitted to Central DuPage Hospital in Winfield after playing with an infected prairie dog that originated from Phil's. Tenerelli was released earlier this week and Glenn was released Thursday. Nicholas remains hospitalized in fair condition.
Nicholas' brother, 15-year-old Alex, also played with the prairie dog. He has not been hospitalized but is listed as a probable case. Another DuPage County resident who handled a sick pet has some of the symptoms of the virus and has been listed as a suspected case.
If you have questions about the virus or an animal possibly infected, call the state's hotline at 1-866-427-7281.
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