In the United States in 2003, a veterinarian who contracted monkey disease during an epidemic described a “dangerous” test of sudden illness before authorities knew what was happening.
Dr. Kurt Zaeske, a retiree from Wisconsin, told a client that he had flu-like symptoms and sores after contacting a field dog with a monkey smallpox. No one knows what happened to the sick animal.
“My fear” Oh my God, is this an exotic disease? I need to understand what it is, ”Zaeske said.
His symptoms were “very similar to the flu,” Zaeske recalls, adding that he had a fever, dizziness, lightheadedness, fatigue, and headaches. Then small sores began to appear on his body, including “a large blister appeared on my finger. It became very heavy.”
Current smallpox has been detected in 15 European countries, the United States, Canada, the United Arab Emirates, Australia and Israel. The total number of cases outside Africa, where the virus is usually detected, has exceeded 200.
So far, the largest epidemic of monkeys affecting the Western Hemisphere was in 2003, when the United States identified 47 cases.
That’s when Zaes fell ill. According to Zaes, a client with a farm dog kept exotic animals and sold them to pet stores. The breeder said he had been sent field dogs, but some had fallen ill and died. It turns out that desert dogs were once exposed to rodents that spread the virus.
According to Zaeske, he prescribed antibiotics for the animals, but the breeder soon called him again and told him that he and his sister were ill.
Zaeske said he had contacted a state laboratory to test samples of desert dogs. After arresting and euthanizing one of them, he began to feel unwell.
“Suddenly I didn’t feel well. And then, of course, I was very worried because we didn’t know what it was then,” he said.
“My biggest fear is that I will lose my thumb and not be able to train anymore,” he added, referring to his injuries.
Zaes was given antibiotics and recovered quickly, he said, but the pain lasted a long time due to a wound on his thumb. No one in his family or his staff was sick.
Eventually, investigators discovered that infected stray dogs had caused ape disease in humans. All patients in the United States had been in contact with wild dogs at some point, and none died.
Zaeske told the test that being a member of the medical profession was “scary at first, but fun at the same time.”
As the world has become more interconnected since 2003, he added, “I think we are divided into three or four levels of serious exotic disease.”
“I think you can see that very clearly – any kind of exotic disease can come out now and spread all over the world,” he said.
In this new epidemic, Zaeske said, the world is “happy” that this type of smallpox is “non-lethal.”
According to the World Health Organization, about 1 percent of people infected with this type of smallpox have died before, and up to 10 percent have been infected with another strain of the virus.
The United States has so far confirmed two cases of monkey disease, one in Massachusetts and one in New York. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Monday it is investigating four suspects: one in New York, one in Florida and two in Utah. All of these confirmed and suspicious cases are in men and related to travel, CDC officials said.
The health departments of California, Florida and Washington have also announced additional tentative work.
Although more cases are expected to be confirmed, officials said there was no evidence that the virus was widespread in the country, adding that the United States has a stockpile of vaccines that could be in close contact with infected patients.
“I think it’s a wake-up call for the world, we can say we’re starting to see a lot of that. We need to be more vigilant. It’s about monitoring,” Zaeske said.