WHO issues monkeypox warning to pet owners
People infected with the virus should stay away from animals, the UN’s health agency said
The World Health Organization has issued a warning to people infected with monkeypox to isolate from animals after the first known case of human to dog transmission was documented in the Lancet medical journal.
“This is the first case reported of human-to-animal transmission…and we believe it is the first instance of a canine being infected,” WHO technical lead for monkeypox Rosamund Lewis told reporters on Wednesday. Epidemiologists had been aware such transmission was possible, with some public health agencies already advising the infected to “isolate from their pets,” but no specific example had been documented until last week.
The Lancet report describes two gay men living together in an apartment in Paris with their Italian greyhound dog. They noticed lesions on the dog 12 days after their own symptoms began to appear, and revealed they had been “co-sleeping” with their dog. Genetic analysis confirmed the virus infecting the dog was the same strain infecting its owners.
While the WHO’s emergency director Mike Ryan acknowledged that the dog becoming infected was “not unexpected,” he cautioned that “what we don’t want to see happen is disease moving from one species to the next, and then remaining in that species [and] moving around within a new species because that’s when the virus can adapt, and then adapting to that new species [the virus] is incentivized to evolve as such.”
However, WHO director of global infectious hazard preparedness Sylvie Briand argued there was no cause for alarm just yet. “It’s the first time, so it means that dogs can be infected, but it doesn’t mean that the dog can transmit the disease and infect other dogs, nor does it mean that the dog can re-infect a human if it is infected.”
WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus declared monkeypox a Public Health Emergency of International Concern last month, overriding the group’s Emergency Committee for the first time since the system was created in 2005. It was the second time the group had opted not to elevate the epidemic to the highest level of emergency, with objections including the virus’ lack of fatality and the fact that it was spreading almost exclusively – 98%, according to Lewis – among men who have sex with men.
Some 35,000 people worldwide have been infected with monkeypox, a chickenpox-like virus normally endemic to Africa, since the epidemic began in May, the WHO reported on Wednesday. Last week saw 7,500 new cases reported, a 20% increase over the previous week.
The virus has been found in 92 countries, though most of the cases have been concentrated in Europe and the Americas. While monkeypox is not a sexually transmitted disease, it is transmitted through close contact, especially skin-to-skin contact, and contact with body fluids, as well as touching objects and surfaces used by an infected person.