DEATH SOUGHT FOR ANIMALS IN MONKEYPOX CASE
03 Jul 2003
Source: New York Times, July 3, 2003
Death Sought for Animals in Monkeypox Case
By DONALD G. McNEIL Jr.
Moving to prevent monkeypox from reaching wild animals in the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended yesterday that all 850 animals from a contaminated shipment of exotic pets from Africa in April be destroyed, along with all prairie dogs that might have been exposed to them.
The agency warned pet owners not to release any sick or potentially exposed animals into the wild.
Other mammals in homes or pet shops that might have been exposed should be killed or should be quarantined for six weeks and watched for symptoms — fever or cough, cloudy or crusty eyes, swollen lymph nodes or rash, the agency said. Bodies should be burned, not buried or thrown out, and the premises disinfected, it added.
An outbreak of monkeypox tentatively traced to a Gambian giant pouched rat in the shipment has caused 81 confirmed or suspected cases in humans, mostly in the Midwest. Its spread seems to have stopped, and no cases of human-to-human transmission were found. But the disease spreads easily to rodents.
A spokesman for the agency acknowledged that the authorities did not know the whereabouts of many of the estimated 850 animals in an April 9 shipment from Ghana to Texas, nor do they know if any were released.
"That's one of the things we're really worried about," said David Daigle, a spokesman for the agency. "Tracking them all down is darn near impossible."
Nonetheless, a "very aggressive" effort is on now, said Dr. Martin Cetron, the agency's deputy director for quarantine. But many were sold at informal pet swaps, he said, "and then things end without a good paper trail."
Monkeypox — so called because it was first diagnosed in monkeys — is a less virulent cousin of smallpox, and vaccination against smallpox appears to protect against it. There were no deaths in the June outbreak, but in West Africa, up to 10 percent of cases are fatal.
At the beginning of the outbreak, the centers and the Food and Drug Administration banned importing of all African rodents and the sale or distribution of six species from the April shipment: tree squirrels, rope squirrels, dormice, Gambian giant pouched rats, brush-tailed porcupines and striped mice. They also banned the transport, sale or release of prairie dogs.
Yesterday's directive was ambiguous about what constituted contact with an infected animal, and it confused some pet shop owners. Details of the directive are at cdc.gov/ncidod/monkeypox /quarantineremoval.htm.
Eileen Whitmarsh, an owner of Rainbow Pets in Shorewood, Wis., who caught monkeypox from a prairie dog in her store, mistakenly thought the order meant she had to kill the 60 apparently healthy hamsters, rats and gerbils she now has quarantined.
"Our animals are checked by the Health Department daily, and they are having babies," Ms. Whitmarsh said. "Sick animals do not have babies."
David Crawford of Boulder, Colo., acting director of the Prairie Dog Coalition, which defends wild prairie dog habitats and opposes keeping the animals as pets, called the euthanasia suggestion "a classic case of blaming the victim."
"This problem was caused by human beings, and it's easy for us to take the `kill them all' approach," he said. "But if this was a human population, we'd be aghast at an order to kill. This calls for quarantine and testing, not euthanasia."
Two weeks ago, at a meeting of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices at the centers, Dr. Gregory A. Poland, a committee member and the chief of vaccine research at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, asked why the agency had not already ordered all possibly exposed animals killed.
An official of the centers replied that people became attached to their pets.
"So what?" Dr. Poland said. "I know what we'd do if this was an outbreak of mad cow disease. We'd kill the whole herd."