Can the Monkeypox Virus be Passed Between Humans and Pets?
As the Covid-19 pandemic has waned and resurged over the past two years (current levels in Travis County are at a medium rate), another infectious disease has appeared that can affect us humans, and may also affect our pets: Monkeypox.
Monkeypox is part of a large group of viruses known as orthopoxviruses, such as smallpox. Orthopoxvirus is a family and species of viruses in which humans and mammals can serve as hosts; there are twelve known species in this particular family, which include smallpox, horsepox, camelpox, alaskapox, cowpox and monkeypox. There has been much debate for decades regarding the origin of smallpox, with the most likely cause being an African rodent virus dating back some 68,000 years. It is considered a zoonotic poxvirus infection, as it can appear in both humans and some animals.
A Brief History of Monkeypox
Monkeypox is not a new disease. It was first diagnosed as an illness among laboratory monkeys (hence the name) in Denmark in 1958. The first monkeypox case was diagnosed in a young child in 1970 in The Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire).
Over the years, the disease has appeared in rodents normally found in Africa, such as dormice, rope squirrels and non human primates. It’s also been reported in tree squirrels, which are prevalent throughout the world.
Other monkeypox cases were diagnosed in several children in Liberia as well as some non-human primates in Liberia and Sierra Leone. Some 338 cases were diagnosed by the World Health Organization between 1981-1986. Initially most cases were found in children under the age of 15 and were traced to animal contact in regional African rainforests. More cases were reported between 1996-2005, especially in older individuals based on close contact.
The first reported case of Monkeypox in the U.S. was reported in 2003, when a small child in Wisconsin was bitten by a prairie dog. Approximately 71 cases were reported that same year, with no deaths.
The current outbreak was confirmed in May 2022 in the United Kingdom, where it was traced to Nigeria. At present (July 2022) there are some 25,000 cases of the disease in 80 countries.
How does Monkeypox Spread?
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) states that Monkeypox can be spread through close contact. This includes having direct physical contact with lesions, in addition to “respiratory secretions” via face-to-face interaction (such as kissing) and touching items contaminated by monkeypox lesions or fluids.
Monkeypox is not considered a sexually transmitted disease. As skin-to-skin contact occurs while having sex, it can definitely be passed while engaged in that type of activity. It’s still uncertain at this point if the virus is spreadable through semen or vaginal fluids, or if it’s able to spread asymptomatically. There is also a likelihood of Monkeypox being able to pass to a fetus through the mother’s placenta.
There is some good news though: if you were vaccinated against smallpox as a child, you are most likely safe from getting Monkeypox. However, if you’ve had contact with someone with a monkeypox-like rash, or someone who has a confirmed case, then you’re at high risk for infection and should see a doctor.
Monkeypox Symptoms in Humans
According to the CDC, in humans, monkeypox symptoms are usually fever and a headache, a sore throat or cough, swollen lymph nodes in the neck underarms or groin, back pain, muscle aches, and lack of energy.
A rash or lesion usually follows these symptoms. These are extremely painful and can appear anywhere on your body (during this particular outbreak lesions have appeared quite frequently on the genital and perianal area). It takes around two to three weeks for the lesions to scab over and resolve themselves, after which you are no longer contagious. The fatality rate is low, around 3% to 6%.
Can our Pets get Monkeypox?
While the Monkeypox can certainly affect humans, can it cause problems for our pets?
Actually, it may…yet, the chances of it happening appear to be very slim. There have been no reported cases of monkeypox in cats and dogs so far, as the information is very limited. However, other viruses in the orthopoxvirus family can cause problems.
Orthopoxviruses have a variety of natural hosts, so it’s very likely that animals can spread monkeypox to people, and people who are infected can spread it to their pets. It can be spread through any type of close contact, such as hugging, petting, and cuddling. Your pets can spread it by licking, sharing food with other pets as well as sharing the same sleeping areas.
These types of viruses can spread very easily between species, which can definitely put our pets at risk. This is why if you’re infected, that you should be very careful if you have pets and avoid full contact with them, to avoid spreading the virus. Should your cat or dog contract the monkeypox, there is no need to give them away or euthanize them; they will get through it, but they need some care.
What to do if Your Pet has Monkeypox or Another Orthopoxvirus
While it’s not entirely clear what kind of symptoms an infected cat or dog may have, you should be aware of signs of lethargy, no appetite, coughing, nasal crust, bloating, fever, and any likely skin rashes.
If your pet has had contact with someone showing signs of monkeypox symptoms, they should should be kept at home. Avoid any contact with other animals, for up to 21 days after the first noticeable contact. If you’re infected, you should not have any contact with your pets. In this situation, you should isolate yourself from others and ask someone in your household to look after your pets until you’ve fully recovered.
Contact your Austin veterinarian if you notice your pet not feeling well, especially within the 21 day period if they’ve made contact with an infected individual.
Caring for Your Pets if they Have Monkeypox
This is very important: DO NOT clean your pets with any of the following items: Do not clean your pets with the following: disinfectants, alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, hand sanitizer, counter-cleaning wipes, or any other kinds of chemical cleaners. These will make your pets incredibly ill and kill them. Use pet friendly cleaning wipes that contain ingredients that will not cause any harm to your pets instead.
If your pet has been exposed, you may have to sequester them in a location that is not your home. If you are immunocompromised, have young children at home, have conditions such as atopic eczema, dermatitis, or if you’re pregnant, you may be at greater risk of contracting it, and shouldn’t have contact with infected pets.
Keeping Your Home Clean if You and Your Pets are Infected
Always wash your hands and wear protective items, such as gloves, goggles, a mask and clothing that fully covers your extremities. Any protective clothing, including the aforementioned items should be disposable, so you don’t need to reuse them.
Cleaning your pet’s waste should also be handled properly. You may be able to seal their waste in thick plastic bags and disposed of properly. It’s also possible to flush it down the toilet, but it’s advisable to check with the Austin health department and your local water company before doing so.
And once the infection subsides and everyone is okay, be sure to thoroughly disinfect your home and wash all of your pet’s toys, bedding, blankets, etc., to kill any remnants of the virus. Some things you may just have to get rid of and dump in the trash.
Until this outbreak subsides, you may want to limit your pet’s outdoor activities, which can include contact with other animals. If you have cats who like to roam around the neighborhood, perhaps it’s time to keep them indoors so they avoid other animals who may have the virus.
If you have any questions regarding Monkeypox and your pets, or if your pet is showing any of the aforementioned symptoms, please contact us.