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The Spread of Disease from Pets to Humans
and the Case for
Stricter Regulation of Pet Stores

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       The Monkeypox virus is part of the same family of viruses as smallpox. The symptoms are similar, but Monkeypox is milder and rarely fatal. Despite the name, which was given because the first known cases occurred in colonies of monkeys kept for research, the source of the disease remains unknown. However, African rodents and non-human primates (like monkeys) might harbor the virus and infect people.

       For more information on the 2022 worldwide outbreak of Monkeypox, please see The Center For Disease Control 2022 U.S. Monkeypox Outbreak web pages.

 pawprint bullet point   Center For Disease Control (CDC) Monkeypox information page   pawprint bullet point    2022 U.S. Monkeypox Outbreak   pawprint bullet point


       This website has been concentrating on the conditions endured by puppy mill dogs and backyard breeders. However, the 2003 outbreak of Monkeypox transmitted from pet store pets to several Wisconsin residents has graphically highlighted another very important aspect of the problem facing us: regulation and inspection of pet stores.

       Act 90/s.173.41, the WI Dog Seller Program now requires licensing and inspection of pet stores that sell dogs, but the state does not require any records of what pets are sold and to whom. The following articles will give you some information about Monkeypox — and how that relates to you.

 pawprint bullet point   On the State level: Monkeypox and lack of documentation from pet stores   pawprint bullet point

 pawprint bullet point    HEALTHBEAT: Diseases jump from animals to humans   pawprint bullet point

 pawprint bullet point    Additional Resources for Information on Zoonotic Diseases   pawprint bullet point



 Tiny blue paw print bullet point    State does not document movement of prairie dogs, other pets

The Associated Press
Published June 9, 2003

MADISON, Wis. - Wisconsin does not require pet stores to keep records of the animals they sell or who is buying them and state officials don't license or inspect animal dealers.

       The state's regulations of pet breeders and dealers have come under scrutiny since 19 Wisconsin residents became ill after coming into contact with pet prairie dogs suspected of having the monkeypox virus.

       State officials said Monday that the lack of better records has made it more difficult to trace the whereabouts of 30 prairie dogs linked to the outbreak.

       Officials are still trying to locate about one-third of the dogs, said Donna Gilson, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.

       "There's no record keeping required here," she said. "It's not like selling cattle or deer or elk. These animals can come into and move throughout the state without any kind of documents."

       That was supposed to change in February, 2003, when new licensing and inspection requirements were scheduled to become law

       But former Gov. Scott McCallum vetoed the $271,100 in funding for the program and Gov. Jim Doyle put a provision in his budget to eliminate the new regulations for animal shelters, kennels, pet dealers and breeders altogether.

       Doyle spokesman Dan Leisitkow did not immediately return a telephone message Monday from The Associated Press.

       In the meantime, the state Department of Health and Family Services has issued an emergency order banning the sale, importation and display of prairie dogs. State agriculture officials plan to publish an emergency rule at the end of this week that would replace that order, Gilson said.

       Eilene Ribbens, of Elkhart Lake, who represented animal rescue groups on a special committee that came up with rules for implementing the law, said that without the new restrictions, the state will see problems similar to what happened with prairie dogs.

       "We can't prevent the outbreak, what we can do is keep track of where these animals are so that we can isolate and control the spread of the disease the minute there's an indication it's out there," she said.

       The Legislature's Joint Finance Committee, which recently approved its own version of the budget, voted to apply the licensing requirements only to pet breeders who sell at least 50 dogs or cats a year for resale. The committee's plan also would only permit the agriculture department to inspect if they have reason to suspect a violation or potential health hazard exists.

       Lawmakers would provide some funding for inspections through license fees charged to larger breeders, but did not include any additional staff to administer the program.

       Ribbens said the original rules that were supposed to take effect in February were reasonable and should have been left intact.

       Rep. Jeff Stone, R-Greenfield, one of the committee members who came up with the proposal, said he had supported the regulations Doyle wants to repeal but said "the reality is the governor doesn't want to fund that."

       Stone also said the new requirements wouldn't necessarily have prevented the monkeypox outbreak since officials have said the prairie dogs were likely infected with the virus by a giant Gambian rat at a Chicago-area pet distributor.

       Still, Stone said stripping the department of all of its authority to investigate breeders and animal dealers was going in the wrong direction.

       He said the committee tried to find a compromise that would give the agency the authority "to get involved in situations like this, where the health of animals or humans are in jeopardy."



 Tiny blue paw print bullet point   HEALTHBEAT: Diseases jump from animals to humans

The Associated Press
Published June 9, 2003 WIMonkeypoxAnimals

WASHINGTON - The monkeypox outbreak illustrates a growing problem: Exotic animals give exotic diseases to people who get too close, a trend that some medical specialists call a serious public health threat.

       Such diseases can become a threat not just to the people who buy and sell exotic pets, but to the general public if they spread to native animals and become established in the United States. Federal health officials are working frantically to ensure that doesn't happen with monkeypox.

       "This is a harbinger of things to come," warns Michael Osterholm of the University of Minnesota, who advises the government on infectious disease - and has long warned that there's too little oversight of the health threats of imported animals.

       "There are some of us who feel like lone voices in the night" in calling for better scrutiny, adds Peter Jahrling, a scientist at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute. "Perhaps incidents like this might bring some much-needed re-examinations."

        Monkeypox, a relative of smallpox usually found in tropical African forests, apparently jumped from an imported Gambian giant rat into prairie dogs when both species were being housed together by an exotic pet distributor in Illinois.

       Health officials are investigating nearly three dozen possible cases of monkeypox in people who bought or cared for the prairie dogs, in Wisconsin, Indiana and Illinois. The outbreak marks the first time monkeypox has been detected in the Western hemisphere.

       Nor is it the only threat, say critics who fear a growing trend.

       SARS, the respiratory epidemic, is thought to have come from civet cats bred as an exotic meat in Chinese markets where bats, snakes, badgers and other animals live in side-by-side cages until they become someone's dinner.

        Japan recently banned the importation of prairie dogs because they can carry plague. The rodents had been wildly popular as pets in that country.

       Just last summer, a group of prairie dogs caught in South Dakota was discovered to have another dangerous infection, tularemia - noticed only after the animals were shipped to 10 other states and five other countries. While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention never recorded any human illnesses, it advised adults who handled the ill rodents to take precautionary antibiotics.

       Then there's salmonella, which iguanas and other reptiles, as well as birds, routinely shed in their feces. The CDC counts a stunning 90,000 people a year believed to have caught salmonella from some form of contact with a reptile, either touching it or touching a surface where the reptile had tracked the bacteria.

       A common scenario, Osterholm says: Parents wash the reptile cage in a bathtub or sink their child uses, and the child gets sick. Salmonella can be life-threatening in children.

       Worse is if a disease jumps from exotic pets into native wildlife - a threat whenever owners dump an animal that gets too large or tiresome to care for.

       CDC's Dr. Steve Ostroff made a plea Monday for prairie-dog owners not to release their animals into the wild, but to call a veterinarian or their state health department for proper care information. Call ahead before taking a sick prairie dog to a veterinary clinic to guard against possible exposure of other animals to monkeypox, he said.

       Already, a sick prairie dog has infected a rabbit who lived in the same house; Jahrling worries that hamsters and gerbils could be incubating monkeypox from pet-store transmission; in Africa, squirrels carry the virus.

       "Even if we do manage to bring the prairie dog problem under control, it's very important that we keep our guard up" by watching for monkeypox in other species, Ostroff said Monday.

       There are no good counts of how many exotic animals are sold, but they're immensely popular, says Richard Farinato, director of the Humane Society of America's captive wildlife program. Some 800,000 iguanas alone are imported for the pet trade.

       There is little federal scrutiny of most imported animals for potential human health risk, and rules on owning and selling exotic animals vary by state and city.

       "We have a policy that says don't buy these kinds of animals as pets. This (monkeypox) is one example of why," Farinato says.

       But even the critics aren't immune to the lure of exotic pets. Osterholm several years ago let his teenage son buy an African dwarf hedgehog, another pet fad - on condition that it be tested for disease. Osterholm's laboratory found the animal harbored three strains of salmonella never before seen in Minnesota.

       They kept the hedgehog, but "extreme hand washing took place," Osterholm recalls. "It wasn't that fun."

EDITOR'S NOTE - Lauran Neergaard covers health and medical issues for The Associated Press in Washington.



 Tiny blue paw print bullet point   Additional Resources for Information on Zoonotic Diseases


 pawprint bullet point   What is Brucellosis?   pawprint bullet point   What is Rabies?   pawprint bullet point   Dr. Bob's All Creatures Site guide to Zoonotic Diseases   pawprint bullet point

 pawprint bullet point   The Petstore Connection   pawprint bullet point

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