Here's how the US handled its first ever monkeypox outbreak that infected dozens of people

Business Insider US
A monkeypox outbreak across several US states in 2003 spread via prairie dogs.
  • Monkeypox is a rare disease that is usually found in Central and West Africa.
  • It has recently been detected across Europe and in North America, including in the United States. 
  • The US suffered its first monkeypox outbreak in 2003.
  • For more stories visit Business Insider.

Monkeypox is a rare disease that is usually found in Central and West Africa and is detected among those who have traveled there.

However, at least a dozen cases have been detected across Europe and in North America this month, leaving experts scrambling to investigate the spread. 

Here's how the United States dealt with its first-ever monkeypox outbreak in 2003. 

The first monkeypox outbreak in the US happened in 2003.

Tammy Kautzer pets her prairie dog Chuckles on June 9, 2003 in Dorchester, Wisconsin.

In July 2003, there were 71 cases of monkeypox reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

The cases came from several states: Wisconsin had 39 cases; Indiana, 16; Illinois, 12; Missouri, 2; Kansas, 1; Ohio, 1. 

"The majority of patients were exposed to prairie dogs. Some patients were exposed in premises where prairie dogs were kept, and others were exposed to persons with monkeypox," according to the archived CDC website

All the human cases of monkeypox were associated with prairie dogs.

Contact tracers found that all 35 human cases of monkeypox were traced back to contact with prairie dogs obtained from an animal distributor in Illinois, according to the CDC. 

The prairie dogs from the Illinois distributor "appear to have been infected through contact with Gambian giant rats and dormice that originated in Ghana" and were purchased by the distributor, the CDC found at the time. 

CDC blamed a 'rapid and widespread' distribution of infected animals.

The Kautzer family was quarantined in June 2003 after contracting monkeypox from a prairie dog.

Following investigations, the CDC blamed the outbreak on monkeypox-positive animals that were intermingling with other animals and humans in different settings. 

"In this outbreak, the rapid and widespread distribution of monkeypox-infected and potentially infected imported wild animals to distributors and potential buyers in several settings (e.g., pet stores, swap meets, and wild animal trade centers) in the United States and to other countries enabled epizootic spread through multiple states before effective interventions could be implemented," the CDC said. 

Those who contracted monkeypox – like the Kautzer family did – were ordered to quarantine. 

The CDC recommended animal euthanasia for some prairie dogs.

In addition to ordering quarantines, the CDC issued a joint order with the Food and Drug Administration to ban importing rodents like prairie dogs.

The CDC also recommended animal euthanasia for all the rodents that came in contact with the infected shipment of prairie dogs, according to the archived CDC site

"These animals are considered to pose a continued risk for infection for other animals and humans," the agency said at the time, per the site. 

The smallpox vaccine was used to prevent monkeypox transmission.

An electron microscopic image depicts a monkeypox virion.

Doctors used the smallpox vaccine to prevent the transmission of monkeypox. Smallpox is more severe than monkeypox, but both have similar symptoms. 

By June 2003, at least 30 people received the smallpox vaccine, including 28 adults and two children, according to the archived CDC site. 

The vaccine was given pre-exposure to some and post-exposure to others. 

"No serious adverse events were reported following smallpox vaccination," according to the CDC site. 

Current cases of monkeypox have been confirmed in the US, UK, and several other non-endemic countries.

On May 7, the UK Health Security Agency confirmed a case of monkeypox in a patient who had travelled from Nigeria to the United Kingdom.

As of May 20, the UKHSA has detected 20 cases of monkeypox since May 6.

The virus has since been detected in the US, Canada, Australia, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Spain, and Sweden, per the World Health Organisation

US President Joe Biden said "everyone should be concerned" about the recent outbreak.

President Joe Biden said Sunday the detection of monkeypox in the United States is "something that everybody should be concerned about."

"It is a concern in that if it were to spread it would be consequential," the president told reporters at Osan Air Base in South Korea, per The Associated Press

"They haven't told me the level of exposure yet but it is something that everybody should be concerned about," he added. 

The WHO said Saturday it expects more cases of monkeypox to be identified and plans to deliver recommendations for mitigating spread. 

The US has a vaccine for 'relevant' for treating monkeypox, an official has said.

National security adviser Jake Sullivan said the US has a supply of "vaccine that is relevant to treating monkeypox" that can be deployed, per The Associated Press

There is currently no standard treatment for monkeypox, but smallpox vaccines are around 85% effective against it, Insider previously reported

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