Michigan removes rabbits from Monkeypox order, ban

June 27, 2003

The Michigan Departments of Agriculture, Community Health and Natural Resources today announced that rabbits have been removed, effective today, from both the state’s emergency health order and the import ban that were enacted in mid-June as a precaution to prevent monkeypox transmission.

Under this action, rabbits are again free to be displayed (including at local and county fairs), sold, transported, and moved into and within the state. However, the order and import ban are still in effect for prairie dogs and six other species: Gambian giant pouched rats; brush-tailed porcupines; dormices; rope and tree squirrels; and striped mice.

“While there have been no confirmed cases of monkeypox illness in Michigan, we continue to investigate potential situations,” said Michigan Department of Community Health Director Janet Olszewski.  “While rabbits no longer appear to be a risk for monkeypox transmission, we continue to urge people to take precautions to prevent the transmission of monekypox from these other animals.”

Michigan Department of Agriculture Director Dan Wyant and State Veterinarian Dr. Joan Arnoldi said the action, while necessary and prudent at the onset to ensure animal and public health, is good news for the state’s rabbit industry and fairs. 

“Ensuring animal health and preventing disease transmission from animals is one of the Michigan Department of Agriculture’s top priorities. As such, we must take threats like monkeypox extremely seriously and respond quickly to prevent or control potential impacts until more information is known,” Wyant said. “The best and latest information is that rabbits have not been involved in monkeypox transmission, so we can remove rabbits from the emergency order and ban.  We appreciate the tremendous cooperation of our Michigan veterinarians, pet shops, animal shelters, rabbit owners/industry, and local and county fairs and exhibitions.  We look forward to their continued support and cooperation.”

Monkeypox is a viral disease of animals and humans that occurs primarily in the rain forest countries of central and western Africa.  Prior to the discovery of monkeypox in several Great Lakes States, 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 seven identified species of animals:
· Persons with healthy prairie dogs, Gambian rats, brush-tailed porcupines, dormices, 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, 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, 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.

The Department of Natural Resources continues to caution individuals on the risk of releasing prairie dogs, Gambian rats and the other species into the environment.  “We certainly do not want monkeypox to become established in wildlife species in Michigan.  But this could happen if people were to release their prairie dogs or certain other pets into the environment.  Therefore we urge all people to follow the guidelines issued by the state agencies,” said Dr. Stephen Schmitt, Wildlife Veterinarian at the Department of Natural Resources.

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.