The World Health Organization has called on people infected with monkey pox to avoid exposing animals to the virus after the first reported case of human-to-dog transmission.
The case, in which two men and their Italian Greyhound live together in Paris, was reported last week in the medical journal The Lancet.
“This is the first case of human-to-animal transmission…and we think this is the first time a dog has been infected,” Rosamund Lewis, WHO technical chief for monkeypox, told reporters.
Experts were aware of the theoretical risk that such a jump could happen, she said, adding that public health authorities had already advised those who had contracted the disease to “isolate from their pets.”
She also said that “waste management is critical” to reduce the risk of contamination from rodents and other animals outside the household.
When viruses cross the species barrier, it often raises concerns that they could mutate dangerously. Lewis stressed that so far there have been no reports of monkey pox happening. But she acknowledged that “Once the virus moves into another population in a different setting, there is of course a possibility that it will develop differently and mutate differently.”
The biggest concern revolves around animals outside the household. “The more dangerous situation…is where a virus can travel in a small mammal population with a high animal density,” WHO emergency director Michael Ryan told reporters. “It’s through the process of one animal infecting the next and the next and the next that you see rapid evolution of the virus.”
He said there was little cause for concern about pets. “I don’t expect the virus to progress any faster in one dog than it does in one human,” he said, adding that while people “need to remain vigilant…pets are not a risk.”
Monkeypox was originally identified in monkeys kept for research in Denmark in 1958, although it is most commonly found in rodents.
The disease was first discovered in humans in 1970, with its spread since then mainly limited to certain West and Central African countries. But in May, cases of the disease, which causes fever, muscle aches and large boil-like skin lesions, began to spread rapidly around the world, mainly among gay men.
More than 35,000 cases have been confirmed in 92 countries and 12 people have died since the start of the year, according to the WHO, which has labeled the outbreak a global emergency.
With the number of cases worldwide rising by 20% in the past week alone, the UN health agency is urging all countries to do more to contain the spread, including by ensuring that populations at risk have access to services and information about the hazards and how to protect them. himself.
There is a vaccine, originally developed for smallpox, but it is scarce.
Lewis said there was still little data on the vaccine’s effectiveness in protecting against monkeypox in the current outbreak. While no randomized control trials had yet been conducted, she said there were reports of breakthrough cases following vaccination, indicating that “the vaccine is not 100%.”
Referring to limited studies in the 1980s that suggested the smallpox vaccines used then would provide 85% protection against monkeypox, she said the breakthrough cases were “not much of a surprise.”
“But it reminds us that the vaccine is not a panacea,” she said.