Michigan Takes Additional Precautions Against Monkeypox

June 13, 2003

The Michigan Departments of Agriculture, Community Health and Natural Resources today announced additional steps being taken to protect Michigan residents, pets and wildlife from monkeypox, which has been discovered in neighboring Great Lakes states. 

Michigan Department of Community Health Director, Janet Olszewski, today issued an emergency order under the Public Health Code to prevent monkeypox transmission.  The order, which has immediate effect, prohibits the intra-state transportation, display, sale, any other distribution or release into the environment of animals belonging to the following eight species:
 
· Prairie dogs
· Gambian giant pouched rats
· Brush-tailed porcupines
· Dormices
· Rabbits
· Rope squirrels
· Striped mice
· Tree squirrels

The emergency order does not apply to the transportation of any of the eight identified species to veterinarians, animal control officers, agricultural, natural resources or public health authorities.  Although there are certain additional exceptions in the emergency order for rabbits, they are included in the order because of apparent transmission of monkeypox from a rabbit to a person in another state.

“Although we have not confirmed monekypox illness in people in Michigan, we have several situations we are investigating,” said Olszewski.  “Given there is the potential for people in our state to be exposed to this disease, it is crucial that we take these precautions to prevent transmission of monkeypox.  Under this emergency order, prairie dogs, Gambian rats and these other species cannot be transported, displayed, sold or in any other way distributed at exotic animal sales, swap meets, pet stores or any other venue.”

Michigan Department of Agriculture Director, Dan Wyant, and State Veterinarian, Dr. Joan Arnoldi, today extended the temporary ban on imports of prairie dogs and Gambian rats into Michigan to include the additional six species mentioned in the Department of Community Health emergency order. 

“Given the additional species that are cause for concern in the potential transmission of monkeypox, it is important that we expand Michigan’s import ban,” said Wyant.  “We will also continue to work closely with veterinarians, pet shop owners and animal workers as we learn more about monkeypox.” 

The Department of Natural Resources cautioned individuals on the risk of releasing prairie dogs, Gambian rats and these other species into the environment.  “Monkeypox is new to the Western Hemisphere, and it could possibly become established in Michigan wildlife species if people were to release these animals into the environment.  There is a great potential for harm if a reservoir of monkeypox were to develop here,” said Dr. Stephen Schmitt, Wildlife Veterinarian at the Department of Natural Resources.

Monkeypox is a viral disease of animals and humans that occurs primarily in the rain forest countries of central and western Africa.  Prior to this discovery of monkeypox, it had never before been found in the Western Hemisphere.  Monkeypox appears to have entered the country via an infected Gambian rat, which then passed the virus to commingled prairie dogs in pet trade.  Transmission can occur by direct contact, bites or closely shared air space. 

Physicians should consider monkeypox in persons with fever, cough, headache, myalgia, rash, or lymph node enlargement within 3 weeks after contact with prairie dogs, Gambian rats, brush-tailed porcupines, dormices, rabbits, rope squirrels, striped mice or tree squirrels.  Veterinarians examining sick exotic animal species should consider the possibility of monkeypox.  Veterinarians should also be alert to the development of illness in other animal species that may have been housed with ill prairie dogs, Gambian giant rats or the other identified species.

The following guidelines and recommendations have been issued for persons who own any of the eight identified species of animals:

· Persons with healthy prairie dogs, Gambian rats, brush-tailed porcupines, dormices, rabbits, rope squirrels, striped mice or tree squirrels should minimize contact of these animals with people, and should watch these animals for symptoms such as eye discharge, respiratory symptoms, or a nodular skin rash.  If signs of monkeypox develop, they should contact their local veterinarian or local health department to get specific instructions from the Michigan Department of Community Health. 

· Persons who choose not to keep healthy prairie dogs, Gambian rats, brush-tailed porcupines, dormices, rabbits, rope squirrels, striped mice or tree squirrels, should contact their regular veterinarian to arrange for humane euthanasia.  The animal should not be buried, as the veterinarian should arrange for proper disposal with assistance from state authorities.  These animals are not to be released into the environment.

· Persons with sick or deceased prairie dogs, Gambian rats, brush-tailed porcupines, dormices, rabbits, rope squirrels, striped mice or tree squirrels should contact their local health department to get specific instructions from the Michigan Department of Community Health.  These animals are not to be released into the environment and should not be buried.
 
 Additional information on monkeypox can be found on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website at www.cdc.gov.  This site includes information for the general public as well as veterinarians, persons who have frequent contact with animals, physicians and health care providers.  For a copy of the Michigan Department of Community Health Emergency Order, click here.