Following our previous article on monkeypox, on 12th August 2022 the first confirmed case of monkeypox in a dog was reported. However, while this is an unwelcome development in the ongoing outbreak, it is perhaps less worrying than it might seem.

What is monkeypox?

The misnamed “monkeypox” virus is a member of the orthopoxvirus family, along with smallpox, camelpox, horsepox and a number of others. In 2022, it has been spreading rapidly outside of its usual “home territories” in Africa, with substantial numbers of infections in Europe, the UK and the US. It causes fever, a rash, and vesicular lesions (like blisters), but has a low mortality rate in humans.

The virus is transmitted human-human primarily through skin to skin contact, but also through nasal secretions (coughs and sneezes) and on contaminated surfaces such as clothing. In Africa, and in earlier American outbreaks, rodents were a key source of infection. And people can contract the disease either through bites, body fluids, or eating undercooked meat from an infected animal.

The new case

The dog in question, an Italian Greyhound, appears to have been a victim of human-to-animal transmission. His owners in Paris were both infected, and allowed him to sleep with them while they were recovering. Unfortunately, it appears that he contracted the virus from them. The strain of the virus and the genetic tests performed showed that the virus that he was infected with was identical to the strain that his owners had.

Why might this be this less alarming than it seems?

Well, despite there being over 2000 cases in the UK, and over 1700 in France, this is the first reported case of a dog or a cat becoming infected. It seems likely that the unusual situation –  prolonged skin to skin contact with two infected people – was key to his becoming infected. 

What do we not yet know?

There are a number of key questions which we don’t yet know the answers to. 

  • What is the risk to dogs? Is dog infection more common than we think, but it’s usually asymptomatic? Italian greyhounds have famously thin and delicate skin, so perhaps they’re at higher risk?
  • Is there any risk to people? We do not know if, or how easily, the virus can make the backwards jump.
  • Why is this the first case? Has the virus undergone a mutation that allows it to spread not only more easily between people, but also makes it easier to jump the species barrier?
  • Is this dog’s 12 day incubation period normal, unusually long, or unusually short?

Hopefully, further research will bring some answers in the near future.

Should I be worried?

Well firstly, if you have a dog or a cat, and you develop monkeypox, it is sensible to minimise their contact with you. And definitely to avoid skin-skin contact with any lesions you have (apart from anything else, you don’t want a secondary bacterial infection!). 

Secondly, make sure that those dogs and cats don’t have contact with other people! At the moment, it seems prudent to assume a minimum 2 week incubation period for the virus in dogs. But it could be longer in some cases, so watch out for updates as they come in.

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