Animal commerce rules tightened to prevent monkeypox

Nov 4, 2003 (CIDRAP News) – Federal health officials have tightened restrictions on trafficking in prairie dogs and African rodents to prevent the spread of monkeypox.

An outbreak of human monkeypox in the United States last May and June was traced to a shipment of imported African rodents. The disease apparently spread from the rodents to pet prairie dogs and on to people, leading to 37 confirmed, 12 probable, and 22 suspected human cases.

The government banned the importation of African rodents and commerce in African rodents and prairie dogs in June. An "interim final rule" announced yesterday continues the import ban. It also bans the capture of prairie dogs and prohibits both intrastate and interstate commerce in prairie dogs and African rodents.

"Today's actions will minimize the likelihood of additional problems related to monkeypox," said Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Mark B. McClellan in announcing the regulations.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) banned the importation of all African rodents in June. At the same time, the CDC and FDA banned interstate commerce in prairie dogs and six kinds of African rodents: tree squirrels, rope squirrels, dormice, Gambian giant pouched rats, brush-tailed porcupines, and striped mice.

The modified rule "is an increased measure by both agencies to prevent the possible transmission of monkeypox from imported animals and from those currently in the U.S. that may have become infected," the FDA said. The CDC will enforce the import ban, and the FDA will enforce the ban on domestic commerce.

The new rule differs from the earlier one in that it bans the capture of prairie dogs and forbids both intrastate and interstate commerce in the animals of concern; the earlier version mentioned only interstate commerce. Also, the rule bans the importation of all rodents caught in Africa, regardless of whether they are shipped directly to the United States or routed through other countries. The FDA said the rule includes exemption procedures for special circumstances.

See also:

Full text of interim final rule (64 pages)

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