Plot of Contagion comes to life as Minnesota woman quarantined on suspicion of monkeypox


A Detroit-to-Chicago flight was quarantined for three hours yesterday on Midway Airport's tarmac due to suspicions that a Red Wing, Minn., woman might have contracted monkeypox in Uganda.

Lisa Sievers, 50, was on her way back to Minnesota after spending more than three months in Uganda trying to finalize the adoption of two children. She had a rash that authorities suspected might have been symptomatic of monkeypox, a contagious disease that occurs mostly in western Africa and causes victims to break out in small, crusty bumps.

Turns out it was a false alarm, albeit a scary one -- Sievers had just been eaten half to death by bugs.

From the Chicago Tribune:

During a layover in Detroit, [Sievers] called her mother in La Porte, Ind., and mentioned one of the children she was trying to adopt had broken out in pustules -- small, pimple-like sores -- during her visit, and that the boy had to be taken to the hospital in Uganda. Sievers also mentioned to her mother that she had suffered an unrelated case of itchy bites, which she believed had been inflicted by bedbugs.

While Sievers' flight was en route to Midway, her mother confused Sievers' bug bites and the boy's pustules, and called her local hospital to ask what she should do to prepare to treat her daughter's symptoms.

"Any time you mention you've been in a tropical country like Uganda and you've developed what sounds like an infectious disease, well, they call the CDC right away," [Sievers' son] said, referring to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Though monkeypox is rarely fatal, it wouldn't be a fun thing to live through. In 2003, there was an outbreak of the disease in the Midwest, with more than 90 cases reported, most of them in Wisconsin, Indiana, and Illinois. The afflicted experienced headaches, fever, and drenching sweats, culminating in the development of a puss-filled, crusty rash. That outbreak stemmed from human contact with prairie dogs.

The Chicago episode, of course, is reminiscent of the plot of Contagion, the Steven Soderbergh film where a woman contracts a deadly virus in Hong Kong, then flies back to Minnesota. The deadly contagious disease she introduces to the Twin Cities eventually spreads throughout the country, leaving panic and mayhem in its wake.

Wary of such a scenario, the CDC clearly wanted to be safe rather than sorry in their approach to Sievers' bizarre rash. That level of diligence is something anyone who has seen the seemingly-all-too-real Soderbergh flick can appreciate.

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