Monkeypox is a rare but potentially serious viral illness, characterized by a blister-like rash that resembles smallpox. Humans contract monkeypox by having close contact with animals or other people who have the virus.
The first case of community-acquired monkeypox outside of Africa was reported in the United States in early June 2003. This case occurred in Wisconsin when a person became infected with monkeypox after handling an ill pet prairie dog. Investigators believe that the monkeypox virus was introduced into the U.S. by a shipment of animals from Africa that arrived in Texas on April 9, 2003. The virus likely spread from some of these animals to prairie dogs being kept by an animal vendor.
As of July 8, 2003, 71 human cases of monkeypox had been reported in the United States, occurring in Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Missouri, Ohio, and Wisconsin. Over 20% of those cases have required hospitalization to treat. Most of the patients appear to have caught monkeypox after coming in close contact with infected pet prairie dogs or by being in the same home as someone ill with monkeypox.
Animals that are known to be able to carry the monkeypox virus include primates (monkeys, apes), rodents, and rabbits. So far in the U.S., only African rodents and prairie dogs have tested positive for monkeypox. However, it may be possible for other warm-blooded animals (including dogs and cats) to get it.
Monkeypox illness in humans usually starts about 12 days after exposure to the virus. The first noticeable symptom is typically a fever. Within 1 to 3 days, a rash develops. Most people recover in 2 to 4 weeks.
The period between exposure to the virus and the onset of monkeypox illness can be anywhere from a few days to 21 days. However, most people experience symptom onset about 12 days after exposure to the virus.
A virus that is similar to the smallpox and cowpox viruses causes monkeypox.
The monkeypox virus causes monkeypox. This virus is similar to the ones that cause smallpox and cowpox.
Monkeypox is most commonly spread through close contact with warm-blooded exotic pets (such as prairie dogs, Gambian giant rats, and rope squirrels) that are ill with the virus Table 01.
Researchers know that primates (monkeys, apes), rodents, and rabbits can catch monkeypox. However, they believe that most warm-blooded animals may also be able to contract the virus.
You may be at risk for monkeypox exposure if the direct contact you've had with wild or exotic pets meets the following conditions:
- You were within 6 feet of an animal that has or is suspected of having monkeypox.
- The animal was acquired since April 15, 2003, from a distributor or a geographical area that is known to have monkeypox-infected animals Table 01.
- The animal appeared tired, sick, or was not eating or drinking.
- The animal had symptoms of a respiratory illness, such as a cough or discharge from the eyes or nose.
- The animal had a rash or was missing parts of its fur.
- You were bitten by an infected animal, handled housing or bedding of an infected animal, or came in direct contact with the blood, body fluids, or rash of an infected animal.
If you have a pet that has been exposed to a sick animal and is showing signs of monkeypox, follow the recommendations made by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Table 01. If your veterinarian determines that your pet has monkeypox, euthanasia (humanely putting your pet to sleep) will be recommended. Euthanasia is necessary for monkeypox-infected animals so that the sick animal does not suffer and so that the virus does not spread to people, pets, or wild animals.
Table 1. What to Do If You Suspect Your Pet May Have Monkeypox
To get monkeypox, your pet must first be exposed to an animal that has it. If you think your pet is at risk, follow these recommendations made by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Keep people and other animals away from your pet. Shut it in a room that can easily be cleaned (such as the bathroom), or put it in a box or cage that is away from others. Consider your pet and objects it has come in close contact with (such as bedding or surfaces) to be contaminated. Wear single-use disposable gloves when handling your pet or objects in its environment. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after handling your pet or contaminated objects. Keep in mind that your clothes and shoes may be contaminated with the monkeypox virus when you handle or care for your pet. Change your clothes immediately after pet contact. Take care not to contaminate yourself or objects when handling soiled bedding, linens, or clothing. A household washing machine is sufficient for decontaminating washable fabric items. Use detergent and hot water. On materials that can be bleached, use chlorine bleach. Notify your state or local health department that you have a pet that may have monkeypox. They may pick up the animal or tell you to seek veterinary attention. Before taking your animal to the vet, call ahead and warn the staff that you are bringing in an animal that may have monkeypox. The staff can then prepare for your arrival and take steps to be sure other people and animals in the clinic do not get monkeypox. Do not release your pet into the wild. A monkeypox outbreak among wild animals would create serious danger to wildlife, people, and other pets. Do not give your pet away or drop it off at an animal shelter. This would be dangerous to the shelter's animals, staff, and visitors. If you cannot afford veterinary care for your pet, contact your state or local health department and inform them of your situation. If the animal dies, do not throw the carcass in the trash or bury it in the backyard. Animals suspected of having monkeypox should be cremated. Place the carcass in at least two layers of plastic bags, seal them, and contact your veterinarian or local health department. Do not get rid of the animal's bedding, cage, toys, or food and water bowls with the household trash or at a dump or landfill. The monkeypox virus can survive on these items, potentially infecting people or animals. Contact your local health department for guidance in proper disposal of potentially infectious items.
Rarely, monkeypox is spread by person-to-person contact with an individual who has monkeypox.
To become infected with monkeypox from another human, you will need to have come in intimate or close contact with them. You may be at risk for monkeypox exposure if the direct contact you've had with infected persons meets the following conditions:
- You were within 6 feet of an infected person for 3 or more hours; you had close, face-to-face exposure to them; or you were exposed to their coughs and sneezes.
- You were exposed to the body fluids of an infected person (saliva, stool, or urine).
- You were exposed to the monkeypox lesions of an infected person or to fluid from the monkeypox lesions.
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