Health officials are warning that pets are also susceptible to monkeypox as the number of confirmed cases rises to over 31,000.
This month, scientists reported what they believe to be the first case of human-to-dog monkeypox transmission during the current outbreak. Before this case, scientists only knew for sure that monkeypox could spread to rodents, but they had no idea if other mammal species were at risk.
Therefore, the extent to which the virus can be spread from humans to animals is still unclear. This report adds credence to the idea that it would be prudent to consider pets during the ongoing epidemic.
The monkey virus can cause disease in other animals, especially rodents.
Monkeypox can indeed spread to other species. Prof. Jane Sykes of the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, who studies animal infectious diseases, told TODAY that the name “monkeypox” is misleading because monkeys are not the natural reservoir of the virus.
Dr. Isaac Weisfuse, an epidemiologist and adjunct professor in Cornell University’s master of public health program, told TODAY that while monkeys “can be” infected, they are not necessarily the animal that is associated with ongoing infections. Instead, both experts agree that rodents in Africa are the most likely natural reservoir.
It is believed that these types of animals triggered a 2003 monkeypox outbreak that affected at least 47 people across six states. Weisfuse elaborated, “a shipment of African rodents was kept near prairie dogs” during the investigation into that outbreak. Then, “people in the United States started buying prairie dogs as pets,” the article says. (The outbreak prompted ongoing CDC bans on importing rodents from Africa.)
Research published in 1976 found that the virus was most likely to infect mice and rabbits out of five rodent species studied, Sykes said. She clarified that the aforementioned study was conducted “quite a long time ago,” and that the animals were infected with the virus via injection into the bloodstream, which is not how the virus is typically transmitted.
There is still cause for concern due to the high number of rodent species that could contract monkeypox.
Weisfuse expressed concern that the disease could spread endemically, citing squirrels as an example due to their widespread distribution. Although the squirrels themselves may be fine, the disease “could sort of re-emerge from squirrels if people had contact with them.”
And new studies show that dogs can contract monkeypox, though they are less susceptible to it than rodents. Recently, a case report detailing the cohabitation of two French men was published in The Lancet. Their 4-year-old Italian greyhound was also infected with monkeypox 12 days after the couple. Over time, all three proved to be infected.
The men claimed they let the dog share their bed. They had previously allowed their dog to socialize with other dogs and cats, but after experiencing symptoms they began limiting his contact with other animals and people.
There had been cases of monkeypox spreading from humans to wild animals, but “Infection among domesticated animals, such as dogs and cats, has never been reported,” the authors wrote.
It is recommended that anyone infected with monkeypox refrain from having any contact with animals.
Weisfuse argued that the vast majority of pet owners need not worry about monkeypox.
However, public health agencies recommend isolating yourself from other people and, if possible, your pets if you have been diagnosed with monkeypox or if it is highly likely that you have a case of the disease.
Patients with monkeypox should avoid contact with household pets, especially mammals, according to recommendations from the CDC, the UK Health Security Agency, and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that a friend or family member temporarily adopt the patient’s pet if the person with monkeypox did not have frequent contact with the animal prior to becoming ill. Petting, cuddling, hugging, kissing, licking, sharing sleeping areas, and sharing food are all examples of close contact, as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
However, the CDC stresses the importance of safety measures if the monkeypox patient must care for their pet or has already exposed their pet to the virus through close contact. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that they take certain precautions before and after caring for the pet, such as washing their hands and donning protective gear like gloves and a mask.
The United Kingdom Health Protection Advice (UKHSA) advises people with monkeypox to temporarily quarantine any rodents (such as mice and rats) from their homes for at least 21 days because of the high risk of transmission from humans to their pets.
The UKHSA notes that the evidence suggesting the disease can spread to cats, dogs, and other animals is less convincing than that suggesting it can spread to rodents. Yet the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (both American and European) advise staying away from any and all pets.
Sykes said, “We still don’t know the full range of species that are capable of being infected,” so being extra careful around all pets is understandable. The studies done on this virus indicate that these rodent species are more vulnerable to it than dogs and cats.
What to do to protect yourself and your pets
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has guidelines for pet care that should be followed if you contract monkeypox. Also, consult your vet to rule out monkeypox if your pet develops listlessness, anorexia, fever, or rash-like lesions.
Sykes said this outbreak serves as a reminder that many diseases can be passed from pets to their owners. There are a number of bacteria and parasites that can jump from pets to humans, including Campylobacter jejuni, giardia, and COVID-19. Tick-borne diseases are another concern, as people often come into contact with them through their pets.
If your pet suddenly becomes ill with a mysterious illness, it’s important to tell your vet about any recent illnesses you’ve had, as it’s likely that people and animals can contract the same diseases. It could be helpful to have the vet speak with your primary care physician as well.
Sykes argued that the realization that animal and human health are so intertwined should serve as a constant reminder to prioritize everyone’s wellbeing. And that “to help stop these types of diseases spreading more in the future,” she said, “it will take the teamwork of public health experts, veterinarians, ecologists, and more.”
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