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

Here's how the US handled its first-ever monkeypox outbreak that infected dozens of people across several states
·5 min read
Electron microscope image of various virions (virus particles) of the monkeypox virus.
Electron microscope image of various virions (virus particles) of the monkeypox virus taken from human skin, 2003. A monkeypox outbreak across several US states that year spread via prairie dogs.Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images
  • Monkeypox is a rare disease that's usually found in Central and West Africa.

  • It was detected across Europe and North America this summer, prompting the WHO to declare it a global health emergency.

  • The US suffered its first monkeypox outbreak in 2003.

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

But at least a dozen cases were detected across Europe and in North America this summer, leaving experts scrambling to investigate the spread in non-endemic countries.

By late July, the monkeypox outbreak had spread to over 70 countries, and the World Health Organization declared the outbreak a global health emergency. In August, the US declared the outbreak a public health emergency, allowing the White House to utilize emergency funds to fast-track testing and treatments.

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 June 9, 2003 in Dorchester, Wisconsin.
Tammy Kautzer petting her prairie dog Chuckles on June 9, 2003, in Dorchester, Wisconsin.Mike Roemer/Getty Images

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; and 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," the archived CDC website said.

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, the CDC said.

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.
The Kautzer family was quarantined in June 2003 after contracting monkeypox from a prairie dog.Mike Roemer/Getty Images

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 — as 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 such as prairie dogs.

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

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

The smallpox vaccine was used to prevent monkeypox transmission.

An electron miscroscopic image depicts a monkeypox virion.
An electron-microscope image depicts a monkeypox virion.CDC

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, the archived CDC site said.

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

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

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 traveled 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, the World Health Organization said.

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

U.S. President Joe Biden arrives at the U.S. Yokota Air Base, in Fussa on the outskirts of Tokyo, Sunday, May 22, 2022.
US President Joe Biden arrives at the US Yokota Air Base, in Fussa on the outskirts of Tokyo, on May 22.Eugene Hoshiko/AP

President Joe Biden said on Sunday that the detection of monkeypox in the United States was "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, The Associated Press reported.

"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 on Saturday that it expects more cases of monkeypox to be identified and plans to deliver recommendations for mitigating the spread.

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

Jake Sullivan, the national security advisor, said the US has a supply of "vaccine that is relevant to treating monkeypox" that can be deployed, The Associated Press reported.

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

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