Monkeypox confirmed in imported African rodents

Jul 2, 2003 (CIDRAP News) – The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said today it has confirmed monkeypox in six rodents from a shipment of African mammals that is believed to be the source of the current monkeypox outbreak in the United States.

Monkeypox was confirmed in one Gambian giant rat, three dormice, and two rope squirrels, the CDC announced. The animals were part of a shipment of African rodents, previously numbered at about 800, imported into the United States on Apr 9. The CDC did not say whether the six infected rodents were the only ones recovered from the shipment or if any other animals from the shipment were tested and found to be free of monkeypox.

The CDC called for the quarantine and euthanasia of all animals from the shipment, along with any prairie dogs that were exposed to the imported animals or to other animals suspected to have monkeypox. Prairie dogs that were housed with the African animals at a pet distributor spread monkeypox to humans, triggering an outbreak that was first recognized in Wisconsin early in June.

In its announcement, the CDC said 32 human cases of monkeypox have been confirmed and another 49 possible cases are under investigation. At a Jun 26 news conference the CDC had reported 31 confirmed and 48 possible cases. Current confirmed cases include 14 in Wisconsin, 8 in Illinois, 7 in Indiana, 2 in Missouri, and 1 in Kansas.

In calling for the euthanasia of animals linked to the outbreak, Dr. Martin Cetron, deputy director of the CDC's global migration and quarantine programs, said, "The goal is to protect people, pets and wildlife in the United States by preventing the monkeypox virus from spreading or becoming established permanently."

The CDC had previously advised states to place quarantines or hold orders on businesses and homes housing infected animals that either had been shipped from Ghana Apr 9 or had been exposed to other animals with monkeypox. The agency now calls for euthanizing these animals. "All other animals on affected premises should be monitored for monkeypox and complete a six-week quarantine period starting from the time that the African rodents and the prairie dogs are destroyed," the announcement said.

Quarantined animals should be separated from people and kept in a locked room or a cage, the CDC said. They should be monitored for signs of illness, including fever, cough, discharge from the eyes, swollen limbs from enlarged lymph nodes, or a blister-like rash.

The CDC also said pet owners should not release sick prairie dogs or any other animal that may be infected with monkeypox into the wild and should not destroy the animals or dispose of them in landfills. Instead, pet owners are urged to contact state health or agriculture departments for guidance on disposing of the animals or to address concerns about the health of exotic rodents or prairie dogs.

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