M is for Monkeypox
In June 2003, a disease suddenly sprung up in Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin. The patients had fevers and rashes (Figure 2). Some had swollen lymph nodes, respiratory signs, sweats, chills, and/or headaches. One of the unusual things about this outbreak of disease, was that veterinary professionals were among the most common people affected. In fact, a portion of the Wisconsin Veterinary Referral Center (WVRC) staff was placed in quarantine. The disease was a virus called monkeypox.
Prior to and since this outbreak, monkeypox had never been seen outside of Africa. A disease that was first noted in monkeys in 1958 and then seen in humans in 1970, it is generally spread from contact with infected animals (once again, be careful what you come in contact with if traveling in Africa!). While it is related to smallpox, monkeypox has not been eradicated and has less than 10% fatality rate, usually in young children. None of the humans infected in the 2003 outbreak died thankfully, but many prairie dogs did.
The story of the 2003 outbreak began in Illinois when an exotic animal dealer housed a group of prairie dogs near a Gambian pouched rat that had recently come to the USA from Ghana. The Gambian giant rat had traveled from Ghana to Texas and then was transferred to Illinois. Throughout this voyage, it had come in contact with 800 small animals of 9 species, many of which may have transferred the virus. The prairie dogs were then sold to dealers and individuals in the Midwest. Owners of the prairie dogs noticed that the prairie dogs were getting sick. The prairie dogs were then taken to the veterinarian (including WVRC). The owners, their families, and the veterinary professionals then began getting sick.
This situation brought home the reality of how easy it is for disease to spread around the world. Luckily, this was not a fatal event and it did not cause widespread terror. One of the side effects was that many municipalities and states began restricting the types of animals that can be kept as pets. Know your local legislation!
Wild animals should never be kept as pets, although you may be able to approximate their environment, you will never be able to provide appropriate food and stimulation for a healthy animal.
Please consider the consequences of having a non-domesticated animal in your home. Not just legally for you, but physically and psychologically for that animal.