Maureen Miller, an infectious disease epidemiologist and medical anthropologist at Columbia University, was not surprised to learn this week that an Italian greyhound in Paris had become the first dog known to catch monkeypox from a human.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention along with the World Health Organization have cautioned since the start of this outbreak that the disease could spread to pets. Many of the routine ways dogs show affection for owners — licking their faces, nuzzling their skin, leaping up into their bedding — are potential pathways for viral transmission.
The CDC offers clear guidance for isolating household animals from infected people, and potentially infected pets from one another. Dogs should be able to recover from the virus just like humans do.
That’s not the human-to-animal transmission scenario that worries Miller.
“It’s rodents that scare me,” she said.
If the virus becomes established in wild animals like rats or squirrels, eradicating it becomes exponentially harder. Rather than being limited to humans, it would take up residence in countless tiny vectors that in turn could infect other animals, pets and people.
Miller said she feels “horrible” for the greyhound, “but there are clear protocols on how to manage infected pets. … I would only worry about it with spillover to rodents.”
She is not alone.
The prospect of monkeypox becoming endemic in rodents — an order of mammals notorious for their hardiness, mobility and effectiveness at spreading pathogens — is “the thing that keeps me up at night,” said Anne Rimoin, a UCLA epidemiologist who has studied it for the last two decades.