Monkeypox in the United States: an occupational health look at the first cases.
Between May 15 and June 20, 2003, 71 suspected cases of monkeypox were investigated and 37 individuals in the United States developed laboratory confirmed monkeypox. These were the first cases of human monkeypox ever documented in the United States or in the Western Hemisphere. The disease was transmitted from small animals imported from Africa to other animals, including prairie dogs sold as pets throughout the U.S. Midwest. Direct contact with the infected animals was the method of infection, and although human to human transmission was thought to have occurred, this was not confirmed by follow up testing. Because of the link with contact with a prairie dog, initial evaluation of the disease was focused toward diseases commonly associated with this animal (e.g., tularemia, plague). Laboratory findings at the Marshfield Clinic in Marshfield, Wisconsin pointed to the presence of an orthopox. The CDC confirmed monkeypox was the infecting orthopox agent. Occupational health nurses from the Marshfield Clinic had direct involvement in the identification and follow up of employees who had direct contact with the diagnosed patients. Programs, such as a respiratory protection program initiated and carried out by Clinic occupational health nurses, were used to prevent employee exposure for Clinic staff. One Clinic employee was thought to potentially have monkeypox because of her direct contact with one of the patients. Four Clinic employees were vaccinated with vaccinia vaccine as a result of their contact with patients or lab specimens. Quarantine of the potentially infected employee and her boyfriend uncovered issues that must be addressed if other infectious diseases requiring quarantine or isolation of individuals emerge or re-emerge. These include a system to compensate individuals in quarantine or isolation who do not have any other source of income. The issue of whether workers' compensation should cover an employee who is quarantined or isolated for a potential work related exposure to an infectious disease if no disease is actually diagnosed also needs to be explored. A better system of getting state or CDC laboratory results back to the local level, including the occupational health area of the generating facility, must be developed. This will be very important if diseases such as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) or smallpox should re-emerge in the United States. Occupational health nurses are an integral part of any infectious disease process occurring in the United States. The identification of monkeypox in the United States shows that any planning to detect, prevent, and treat diseases with the potential to affect the employee population must include occupational health nurse involvement.
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