What is monkeypox?
Most people have heard about monkeypox at one time or another, but if you follow the news, you may know it has made its way into North America. The virus originated in West Africa, but showed up in Canada in May of 2022. Canada is currently establishing itself as one of the most affected countries in the Americans. The first known case of monkeypox in the US during the latest outbreak was also in May of 2022.
If you don’t know much about monkeypox, it is still rare but can be very serious. The monkeypox virus is also related to the smallpox virus. It is not as transmissible or severe, but still a concern due to the very uncomfortable symptoms and the potential for serious complications. The virus spreads from infected humans or animals in close contact. Contaminated items such as towels or sheets can also spread the virus.
Monkeypox usually starts with swollen lymph nodes, fever, headache, chills, muscle pain, and fatigue. The symptoms are very similar to what you would expect with the flu. There are also some cold-like symptoms like congestion, sore throat, and coughing. This continues into other symptoms including a rash 1-4 days later, which causes fluid-filled lesions — often most prevalent across the face. The rash also appears on other parts of the body and goes through several states before scabbing and beginning to heal. It can take up to 4 weeks until an infected person is no longer able to spread the virus through lesions.
Should I worry about monkeypox?
Monkeypox is not easily spread like COVID-19. Research shows monkeypox is spread by close contact with an infected person because the virus transmitted through lesions and bodily fluids, and large respiratory droplets. Many infections happen from sexual contact, but it has also been known to spread in communities by other means. Even hugging and kissing can possibly spread the virus.
Washing hands and maintaining good hygiene is important just as it is with COVID-19 because some infected materials are likely to transfer the virus in the right conditions. If you or someone you know has flu-like symptoms and especially a rash — it’s very important to quarantine and see a doctor for testing.
Can I get monkeypox from rats or pets?
Many cases of the virus have made it clear it is possible for rats and other animals — including pets — to spread monkeypox. Infected rodents like rats or squirrels can transmit the virus. Touching an infected rodent’s fur or skin or coming in contact with their blood, blisters, saliva, or scabs can possibly transmit the virus to a human.
As some may remember, the first US case of monkeypox in many years appeared in Wisconsin in May of 2003 after a 3-year-old was bitten by her pet prairie dog. Within a couple months later, the girl’s parents along with 69 others in the US had either confirmed or suspected cases of the virus.
Most of the Wisconsin monkeypox cases were caused by prairie dogs recently purchased as pets. These prairie dogs were linked to a pet distributor in Milwaukee, Wisconsin who sold the infected animals to two of the pet shots in northern Wisconsin. The source of the infection could have been a sick Gambian giant rat, which was also in possession of the pet distributor.
Some virologists worry the virus may take hold of wildlife and pets outside of Africa and be almost impossible to stop. The animals and pets infected with the virus would be a continued risk to humans. Rolling Stone Magazine goes as far as to say, “If It Infects Our Pets, There’s No Getting Rid of It.” The article also points out that because there are currently two strains in the US, it has been around for much longer than predicted.
Currently, there is no animal reservoir existing outside of Africa. The Rolling Stone article also points out some scientists have said the 2003 outbreak was a close call. “We narrowly escaped having monkeypox establish itself in a wild animal population,” said epidemiologist Anne Rimoin from the University of California, Los Angeles. With more animals able to spread the virus, more human infection can occur. As human infections continue, there is more chance for variants of monkeypox to occur.
How can pets be protected?
Like humans, pets can be infected by monkeypox from an infected rodent or other animals. Pets are far more likely to have close contact with a rat or animal they catch because biting and scratching the animal may expose them to an infected animal’s blood, blisters, scabs, or bodily fluids. This can pass the infection on to the pet, making it a risk for their human owners.
The best way to protect your pet is to be sure they are not exposed to infected animals. When taking animals out on walks, they should be kept on leash or contained in spaces where they will not come in contact with rats, squirrels, or other infected animals. If your pet spends time outside in your back yard, it is especially important to be sure your yard is rat free. Owners often let their animals roam in their yard feeling they are safe, but animals like rats can easily invade without your knowledge.
Common rodent control like snap traps or rodenticides can be dangerous and even deadly for your pets and other wildlife. The safest way to control rodents is with a toxin-free trap, like the A24 Rat & Mouse Trap. The trap doesn’t use any poisons, and is quick-kill so it is humane for rats & mice. The trap operates on a CO2 canister without any batteries or electricity, and is also automatic and self-resetting.
What have we learned?
Although monkeypox infections are currently still rising outside of Africa in countries like the US and Canada, it is still quite rare to become infected. Using common sense by avoiding contact with people exhibiting symptoms and practicing good hygiene will make your risk for contracting the virus very low. Keeping rats out of your home and off of your property will protect you and your pets from being exposed to an infected rat.