News media attention has recently focused on an outbreak of monkeypox in the midwest. This outbreak appears to have originated in pet stores and swap meets in Wisconsin. This is the first outbreak of this disease in the United States.

Infected prairie dogs, sold as pets, are the likely source of the recent outbreak. These pet animals likely contracted the disease through exposure to infected rodents imported from Africa. Consequently, the U.S. government has embargoed the importation of all rodents from Africa.

No cases of monkeypox have surfaced in Utah, and it is highly unlikely that any wild animals in Utah are infected with the virus. However, recently aquired pet prairie dogs or African rodents should be watched carefully for symptoms of infection. Call your verterinarian immediately if you suspect your recently aquired pet is infected, and limit all contact with the animal. Never release sick animals into the wild; these animals could easily transmit disease to wildlife.

Monkeypox is a rare viral disease, but is most common in parts of Africa where it primarily infects rodents. However, other animals, including humans, can contract monkeypox from exposure to monkeypox lesions and rashes or other fluids from infected animals. Human-to-human transmission of monkeypox is possible.

The monkeypox virus is similar to the viruses that cause smallpox and cowpox. The symptoms of a monkeypox infection are similar to, but generally less severe than, smallpox. Like smallpox or the much more familiar chickenpox, monkeypox symptoms include fever, rashes and fluid-filled bumps or lessions across wide swaths of the body.

The death rate in Africa for those with monkeypox is between one and ten percent. Lower death rates from monkeypox in developed countries can be expected due to better medical treatment. No deaths have occurred during the current U.S. outbreak.