Hamsters could be CULLED to stop monkeypox spread under new guidance

Pets like hamsters and guinea pigs could be CULLED to stop monkeypox spread under new guidance – as UK cases of the rare virus hit 73

  • Rodent pets could be culled to contain monkeypox under new ECDC guidance
  • The UK government is thought to be close to drawing up similar guidelines
  • Cases of the rare virus in the UK have risen to over 70 in the past days 
  • Scientists worry that animals could become reservoirs for the surging disease

Pets could have to be culled to protect from monkeypox under ‘last resort’ guidelines drawn up by health officials.

A cull could be ordered as the last resort for hamsters, gerbils and guinea pigs if they are unable to be isolated.

Rodents have been identified as carrier of the disease in west and central Africa.

The ECDC said it is ‘theoretically possible’ that people in Europe could pass on monkeypox to their domestic pets, which could then act as a reservoir and transmit it back to humans.

A cull could be ordered as the last resort for hamsters, gerbils and guinea pigs if they are unable to be isolated

The report states: ‘Currently, little is known about the suitability of European peri-domestic (mammalian) animal species to serve as a host for monkeypox virus. 

‘However, rodents, and particularly species of the family of Sciuridae (squirrels) are likely to be suitable hosts, more so than humans (see disease background), and transmission from humans to (pet) animals is theoretically possible. 

‘Such a spill-over event could potentially lead to the virus establishing in European wildlife and the disease becoming an endemic zoonosis.’

The ECDC noted that the likelihood of this spill-over is ‘very low’, however.

But it said national health authorities should work with veterinary experts to ensure there is a sufficient testing capacity to swab and quarantine pets which have been exposed to monkeypox.

A British tourist on the Canary Island of Fuerteventura is being tested for monkeypox, the first suspected UK case in Spain

The agency said exposed rodent pets — such as hamsters, gerbils and guinea pigs — should be isolated in monitored facilities and tested again before their quarantine ends. These pets should only be killed ‘as a last resort’ if there is no testing or isolation capacity, the report states.

Mammalian pets, such as cats and dogs, can be isolated at home if there is a suitable outdoor space and a vet can check on them, the ECDC said.

The same report told European countries to draw up an inoculation strategy to control the spread of the tropical virus.

The news comes after it emerged British tourist on the Canary Island of Fuerteventura is being tested for monkeypox.

Health chiefs in the region confirmed the holidaymaker was one of five suspected new cases currently being analysed.

The man, whose age has not been released, is thought to be the first British tourist in Spain affected since the country announced its first cases last week.

Health chiefs in the region confirmed the holidaymaker was one of five suspected new cases currently being analysed (file image of Fuerteventura) 

A spokesman for the Canary Islands’ Health Service confirmed in a short statement: ‘A suspected case of monkeypox in Fuerteventura corresponds to a British tourist.’

It is not yet known when they will confirm whether he has the disease.

Authorities have not said if he is holidaying alone on the island or is relaxing with relatives who are also being tested.

Spain has so far confirmed around 40 cases of monkeypox and said another 67 people are being tested.

The outbreaks have been traced to a gay sauna in Madrid and a Gran Canaria pride festival attended by 80,000 people from Britain and other European countries.

News of the suspected Fuerteventura case follows warnings by chief medical advisor Dr Susan Hopkins for people to be ‘alert to the virus’ on holiday.

Dr Hopkins, of the UK Health and Security Agency (UKHSA), told the BBC: ‘The risk to the general population remains extremely low.

EU health chiefs published a risk assessment today which will advise member states to prepare a programme for rolling out jabs to control the spread. No monkeypox vaccine exists, but the smallpox vaccine, which was routinely offered to Britons until the virus was eradicated more than four decades ago, is 85 per cent effective at stopping a monkeypox infection

‘People need to be alert to it, and we really want clinicians to be alert to it.’

Spain has been one of the worst affected countries so far.

Yesterday, Britain’s monkeypox outbreak nearly tripled in size as health officials confirmed another 37 patients have caught the tropical virus.

UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) bosses have now logged 57 cases in little over a fortnight.

Authorities described the outbreak — which has disproportionately struck gay and bisexual men — as ‘significant and concerning’ but insisted the risk to the UK population remains low.

Health officials said yesterday the virus can be stopped but could become endemic to Europe unless the outbreak is thwarted soon.

In a rallying cry urging nations to act immediately, a senior World Health Organization (WHO) executive called the situation ‘containable’.

Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s emerging diseases lead, said: ‘We want to stop human-to-human transmission. We can do this in the non-endemic countries.’ However, she warned: ‘We can’t take our eye off the ball on what’s happening.’

Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s emerging diseases lead, said: ‘We want to stop human-to-human transmission. We can do this in the non-endemic countries’

Timeline of monkeypox in the UK 

1958: Monkeypox was first discovered when an outbreak of a pox-like disease occurred in monkeys kept for research.

1970: The first human case was recorded in 1970 in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the infection has been reported in a number of central and western African countries since then.

2003: A Monkeypox outbreak occurred in the US after rodents were imported from Africa. Cases were reported in both humans and pet prairie dogs. All the human infections followed contact with an infected pet and all patients recovered.

SEPTEMBER 8, 2018: Monkeypox appeared in the UK for the first time in a Nigerian naval officer who was visiting Cornwall for training. They were treated at the Royal Free Hospital in London.

SEPTEMBER 11, 2018: A second UK monkeypox case is confirmed in Blackpool. There is no link with the first case in Cornwall. Instead, the patient is though to have picked up the infection when travelling in Nigeria. They were treated at Blackpool Victoria Hospital and Royal Liverpool University Hospital.

SEPTEMBER 26, 2018: A third person is diagnosed with monkeypox. The individual worked at Blackpool Victoria Hospital and treated the second Monkeypox case. They received treatment at the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle.

DECEMBER 3, 2019: A patient was diagnosed with monkeypox in England, marking the fourth ever case.

MAY 25, 2021: Two cases of monkeypox were identified in north Wales. Both patients had travel links to Nigeria.

A third person living with one of the cases was diagnosed and admitted to hospital, bringing the total number ever to seven.

MAY 7, 2022: A person was diagnosed with Monkeypox in England after recently travelling to Nigeria. The person received care at the expert infectious disease unit at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust in London.

MAY 14, 2022: Two more cases were confirmed in London. The infected pair lived in the same household but had not been in contact with the case announced one week earlier.

One of these individuals received care at the expert infectious disease unit at St Mary’s Hospital in London. The other isolated at home and did not need hospital treatment.

MAY 16, 2022: Four more cases were announced, bringing the UK total to seven. Three of these cases are in London, while one of their contacts is infected in the north east of England.

The spate of cases was described as ‘unusual’ and ‘surprising’ as experts warn gay and bisexual men to look out for new rashes.

MAY 19, 2022: Two more cases were revealed, with no travel links or connections to other cases. The cases were based in the South East and London. Fears began to grow that infections are going undetected.

MAY 20, 2022: Eleven more cases are announced, meaning Britain’s monkeypox outbreak have doubled to 20. Minsters discuss the possibility of a public health campaign to warn gay men the disease may be more prevalent for them

MAY 23, 2022: Scotland logs its first ever monkeypox case and 36 more infectioned announced in England. It brings the UK total to 57.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) simultaneously warned monkeypox may become endemic to the continent, if transmission continues and it spreads to pets or wildlife.

Sixteen countries, including the US, Australia, Canada, and Spain, have all detected the virus this month. Denmark today became the latest to confirm an infection in a man who recently returned from Spain.

Until this worldwide outbreak, the rash-causing virus had only been detected in four countries outside of western or central Africa, where the virus is entrenched in animals and spillover events occur.

The ECDC, which oversees the EU response to infectious diseases, said: ‘If human-to-animal transmission occurs, and the virus spreads in an animal population, there is a risk the disease could become endemic in Europe.’

Health chiefs are alarmed about the ‘unprecedented’ cluster of cases, which has disproportionately struck gay and bisexual men.

Speaking at a WHO live Q&A on monkeypox, Dr Van Kerkhove said: ‘This is a containable situation, particularly in the countries where we are seeing these outbreaks that are happening across Europe, in North America as well.’

She added: ‘We’re in a situation where we can use public health tools of early identification, supported isolation of cases.

‘We can stop human-to-human transmission.’

She said transmission was happening via ‘close physical contact: skin-to-skin contact’, and that most of the people identified so far had not had a severe case of the disease.

Dr Rosamund Lewis, who heads the smallpox secretariat on the WHO emergencies programme, said ‘this is the first time we’re seeing cases across many countries at the same time and people who have not travelled to the endemic regions in Africa’.

She said it was not yet known whether the virus had mutated to become more transmissible but viruses in the wider orthopoxvirus group ‘tend not to mutate and they tend to be fairly stable’.

‘We don’t yet have evidence yet that there is mutation in the virus itself,’ Dr Lewis said. 

Virologists are studying the first genomic sequences of the virus, she added.

Andy Seale, strategies advisor at the WHO’s global HIV, hepatitis and sexually transmitted infections programmes, stressed that while the virus could be caught through sexual activity, it was not a sexually transmitted disease.

He said: ‘While we are seeing some cases amongst men who have sex with men, this is not a gay disease, as some people in social media have attempted to label it. That’s just not the case.

‘This demographic is generally a demographic that really does take care of health screening… They’ve been proactive about responding to unusual symptoms.

‘Anybody can contract monkeypox through close contact.’

Dr Van Kerkhove added that as surveillance widened, experts did expect to see more cases.

It comes as the ECDC released a report warning that monkeypox could become endemic in Europe.

No monkeypox-specific vaccine exists but smallpox jabs, which were routinely offered to Brits until the virus was eradicated four decades ago, are up to 85 per cent effective.

The report said using the smallpox vaccine within four days of exposure to monkeypox could have a ‘significant protective effect’ and urged countries to consider vaccinating those with an infection and their close contacts.

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