London: With monkeypox cases spreading across more than 20 countries, the world – which has been battling the Covid-19 pandemic for over 2 years – is on tenterhooks about the viral infection. And in a development that can break the hearts of pet parents, European health authorities have asked monkeypox patients to either kill or isolate their pet hamsters, gerbils and guinea pigs over fears that the virus could become endemic across Europe if it makes the jump to animals, reported IANS.
As per the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC), the European Union has confirmed 118 cases of monkeypox. Spain and Portugal have reported the largest outbreaks in the EU with 51 and 37 cases, respectively. The UK Health Security Agency has confirmed 90 cases of the virus. Globally, about 200 confirmed cases and more than 100 suspected cases have been detected in over 20 countries.
“Rodent pets should ideally be isolated in monitored facilities, complying with respiratory isolation (for example, a laboratory) and animal welfare conditions (for example, government facilities, kennels, or animal welfare organisations), and tested (by PCR) for exposure before quarantine ends,” the ECDC said, in a statement.
Although the natural reservoir of monkeypox is unknown, experts believe it comes from rodents in west and central Africa, where the disease is endemic. Pet rodents – including hamsters, gerbils, guinea pigs and mice – are considered most at risk, as they are known to be susceptible to the disease. Other animals, including dogs and cats, should also be kept indoors – but can isolate at home as the risks of contracting the virus are lower, The Telegraph reported.
According to Professor David Robertson, from the Glasgow Centre for Virus Research, although the threat of monkeypox jumping from humans to pets to wildlife is low, it is a “valid concern”, the report said. If this happens, it would be incredibly difficult to trace the spread of the virus – which could jump back into humans from wildlife, triggering recurrent outbreaks. “This virus does have quite a wide host range which is always worrying in terms of potential to establish in a new host species… it would seem sensible to monitor any animals/pets that infected people are in contact with,” Robertson was quoted as saying.
Some experts, however, have downplayed the risks. Professor Ian H Brown, head of the virology department at the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA), said the threat remained “theoretical”, with diseases “more readily” jumping the other way, from humans to animals. “There are lots of uncertainties so (it is) always prudent in such situations to educate people and mitigate such risks,” he told the Telegraph.
“To date, few animal species have known susceptibility to the virus. No companion dog cases have been reported during this event to date or in previous events.”
Meanwhile, Sylvie Briand, World Health Organization (WHO) director for Global Infectious Hazard Preparedness, told the UN agency’s annual assembly that “if we put in place the right measures now we probably can contain this easily.” Monkeypox is a usually mild viral infection that is endemic in parts of west and central Africa. It spreads chiefly through close contact and until the recent outbreak, was rarely seen in other parts of the world, which is why the recent emergence of cases in Europe, the United States and other areas has raised alarms.
(With IANS inputs)