Below the soft, puffy, huggable exterior of Wooly Bully, the prize winning sheep at this year’s Kankakee, Illinois county fair, lurked a dangerous and life threatening agent of death.
Raised by Ricky Henderson as a 4-H project, the former lamb was a kind and gentle playmate, not only for 11-year-old Ricky, but also for his younger brother, 8-year-old Todd. If they survive, it is the hospital staff’s sad duty to inform them that they are now orphans. The youngster’s parents succumbed to the deadly anthrax bacterium days ago.
Both boys now cling to life, placed in a medically induced coma and isolated far away in the Acute Care and Infectious Disease Wing of Riverside Medical Group, located not far from the gently flowing Kankanee River.
“Oh, it’s definitely anthrax poisoning,” said Dr. Harriet Durville, infectious disease specialist. “Let’s not forget this is essentially a bacterial disease transmitted by animals. Filthy, disgusting, smelly animals that humans choose to come into contact with. ‘Dogs are pets, not sheep,’ I tell all my patients.”
Word travels quickly in this closely-knit, northern Illinois city of roughly 27,000. “It’s just so sad,” said Milly Jacobsen, bank teller. “We all watched Ricky raise that sheep from when it was born, and now, … if I had only known, I would have slit its throat during the night a long time ago and no one would have been the wiser! Such a shame,” she added.
Hundred of fairgoers have streamed into nearby clinics, complaining of symptoms of anthrax infection: fever, chills, blisters, nausea and vomiting, head and body aches being the most common ailments. “Most of the cases are just psychosomatic,” said Dr. Durville. “People are just panicked. After they hear that a simple antibiotic shot or 3 days of pills can clear up any complications, they relax about it.”
Naturally occurring animal-to-human anthrax disease rarely infects mass numbers of victims, whereas the deliberate malicious release of the bacterium for terroristic purposes can infect many at one time. “There’s a fear factor involved,” said Durville. “The bio-terrorists have really put a bad name on anthrax,” she added.
“Remember when people were afraid to open their mail? That’s going to start all over again, ‘til the next big scare comes along, probably,” Dr. Durville added.
So far, the spread of the disease seems to be held in check. The National Center For Disease Control has reportedly been notified by the hospital, but doctors were informed that until the number of confirmed cases gets above 100, the CDC will not step in.
“When we take those boys out of the medically induced coma we put them in and if they make it through, it’s going to be a sad day around here. I may just take that day off,” said Durville.