People with monkeypox have been told to avoid contact with their pets for three weeks amid concerns the animals could become infected and pass the virus on to other people.
Monkeypox is caused by a viral infection and can be found in animals including rodents and monkeys, as well as in humans. It is typically found in central and western Africa, however in recent weeks there has been a surge in human cases in countries where the disease is not endemic, including the UK.
Now experts have advised people who have been diagnosed with monkeypox to avoid contact with their pets for three weeks.
“Based on current evidence, for pet rodents in households where there are infected people, temporary removal from the household for a limited quarantine period (21 days) and testing to exclude infection is recommended, particularly where there are infected human contacts who have had close direct and prolonged contact with the animal or its bedding and/or litter,” guidance from a multi-agency group states.
Other mammals kept as pets, such as cats and dogs, should be kept under household isolation with regular vet checks “to ensure no clinical signs are observed”.
Wendi Shepherd, the monkeypox incident director at UKHSA, said: “We are continuing to promptly identify further monkeypox cases in England. As a precautionary measure our health protection teams are advising confirmed cases to avoid contact with any household pets for 21 days.”
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) added that if possible someone else in the household should care for the pet, including feeding and grooming it. But the UKHSA said if it was not possible to avoid contact with pets, people with monkeypox should minimise contact and wash their hands before and after.
However the UKHSA and Defra have stressed the risk of someone passing monkeypox to their pet is low, with the latter noting there is evidence of risk for only a limited number of species, most of which are rodents.
“No cases of monkeypox have ever been suspected or reported in pets in the UK and the risk remains low,” said the chief veterinary officer, Christine Middlemiss.
The move comes as the UKHSA announced a further 16 monkeypox cases had been identified in England, bringing the total to 101. To date three cases have been found in Scotland and one each in Wales and Northern Ireland.