With monkeypox spreading around the world, a University of Guelph infectious diseases researcher says the best way to prevent it from becoming a pandemic is to halt its spread back to animals.
Dr. Scott Weese is the chief of infection control at the Ontario Veterinary College and the director of U of G’s Centre for Public Health and Zoonoses. His research focuses on emerging infectious diseases among animals and zoonosis – the spread of diseases from animals to humans.
As Weese notes in his blog, Worms and Germs, monkeypox is normally a disease that spreads among animals (although which animals remains unclear). This latest outbreak is now spreading from human to human.
Weese’s chief concern is that if the outbreak is allowed to continue for too long, there could be a “spillback” of the virus from humans to other animals, which he describes in a new blog post.
“The likelihood of spillback into an animal somewhere is moderately high if the outbreak continues for a while,” he wrote. “Lots of people infected means lots of pets exposed, and transmission to a susceptible species certainly wouldn’t be shocking.”
However, the main concern would be the creation of a new animal reservoir in countries where the virus has not been present previously.
“In that scenario, the virus could be maintained in animals and continue to spill into people. The odds of this are probably quite low but it’s plausible,” he added.
Whether people can infect animals is unknown, he said: “All the focus to date has been on the transmission of the virus in the other direction.”
To reduce the spread of monkeypox back to animals, Weese would like to see more control measures in place for people who are or might be infected with the virus, including reducing direct contact with animals, distancing and masking to reduce droplet spread, and keeping pets out of bedrooms at night.
“It’s better to use easy control measures early, even if they ultimately are found to be unnecessary than to look back six months from now and say, ‘I wish we’d done some things a few months ago,’” he said.
Those who do become infected with the virus should stay isolated and reduce their contact with animals.
“I don’t think drastic measures are needed, just some easy, basic infection control practices that are not overly disruptive but likely reduce any risk that might be present,” he said.
Weese is available for interviews.
Dr. Scott Weese