Monkeypox in prairie dogs

During May and June 2003, the first cluster of human monkeypox cases in the United States was reported. Most patients with this febrile, vesicular rash illness presumably acquired the infection from prairie dogs. Monkeypox virus was demonstrated by using polymerase chain reaction in two prairie dogs in which pathologic studies showed necrotizing bronchopneumonia, conjunctivitis, and tongue ulceration. Immunohistochemical assays for orthopoxviruses demonstrated abundant viral antigens in surface epithelial cells of lesions in conjunctiva and tongue, with lesser amounts in adjacent macrophages, fibroblasts, and connective tissues. Viral antigens in the lung were abundant in bronchial epithelial cells, macrophages, and fibroblasts. Virus isolation and electron microscopy demonstrated active viral replication in lungs and tongue. Both respiratory and direct mucocutaneous exposures are potentially important routes of transmission of monkeypox virus among rodents and to humans. Prairie dogs can be studied for insights into transmission, pathogenesis, and vaccine and treatment trials, because they are susceptible to severe monkeypox infection (12).

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