September 14, 2016
I am going to share with you the Veterinary Accreditation Program through the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). What? The USDA-APHIS educate and certify veterinarians to inspect animals for disease prior to writing a health certificate for animal travel.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) in Georgia is a governmental body we should all get down on our knees and give thanks for! The CDC is our nation’s health protection agency. It monitors all kinds of diseases that crop up in the United States and abroad that might affect us, from food borne illnesses (think E coli in the spinach or listeriosis in raw cheese products) to contagious measles outbreaks that start at California resorts to zoonotic infections passed from animals to people. The CDC works hand in hand with the USDA-APHIS, and the system trickles down to yours truly, the local town veterinarian. Which means I am authorized to fill out and sign a health certificate for a pet planning to travel to another state or country. Not a big deal? Think again.
Why so much interest you might well ask, in where Fido goes on vacation? Is this just another way that Big Brother is invading your privacy? The short answer is no. According to the USDA-APHIS they are recognizing new emerging infectious diseases world-wide. Of ALL the bacteria, viruses and other disease-causing pathogens that affect humans, they estimate 61% to be zoonotic or spread from animals to humans. Of the new “emerging” diseases they believe at least 75% to be zoonotic. The USDA-APHIS bodies wish to protect YOU by verifying that all animals that travel are disease-free, to safeguard humans. As a veterinarian may I add that this also helps safeguard our pets and our food sources. Our way of life.
The National Veterinary Accreditation Program web site shares some fascinating information of how the local town veterinarian can be a link in this chain of protection.
In 2003 a shipment of over 700 small mammals and rodents were imported to the US from Africa. The wildlife importer brought in dormice, various unusual rats and some rope squirrels. There is always a market for unusual animals in the pet trade, sometimes zoological parks or animal preservation parks, even research. The animals arrived safely in Texas, where they were re-distributed to Illinois. Many of the rats were housed near Prairie dogs. The Prairie dog has been adopted as a pet by many people. They are native to many areas of the United States. They have not been bred in captivity for generations, but may be relatively docile, eat timothy hay and are awake in the daytime which is a real bonus for people who enjoy interactive time with small rodents as pets. Unbeknownst to all, the rats were carrying the monkeypox virus and transmitted it to the Prairie dogs. The Prairie dogs were distributed to pet shops in six Midwestern states. These Prairie dogs went into pet homes.
Monkeypox is a virus in the same family as Smallpox. Smallpox was a deadly viral disease that the European explorers and settlers first brought to the Americas in the 1600’s. Native American tribes had never encountered this virus and had no natural immunity; many Indian tribes were decimated by Smallpox. Smallpox was eradicated in the United States before 1980, so a vaccination program against Smallpox is no longer enforced. Monkeypox was first diagnosed in Africa over 40 years ago. The disease causes a fever, enlarged lymph nodes and small raised polka-dot like spots or rash that may cover the body. Both humans and animals can develop the rash. Monkeypox is known to be zoonotic, spreading from a sick pet to a human by body fluids, soiled bedding and close contact. Signs of Monkeypox can show up as little as one day after exposure. There is no specific treatment against this virus, though vaccination against Smallpox may provide protection against Monkeypox for 85% of the people who receive it. Again, no one has routinely received Smallpox vaccination since 1972. Children born after that time will have no immunity.
Monkeypox had NEVER been seen or diagnosed outside of continental Africa until this outbreak in 2003 in the United States. Over a period of four weeks, from May to June, at least 47 people were infected from their new Prairie dog pets. One of the first family cases started May 11th 2003 when two Prairie dogs arrived in their new home. One of the Prairie dogs was ill with a skin rash and runny nose on the 15th and taken to their veterinarian. By the 20th the family was ill and the Prairie dog died. The veterinarian sent tissue samples to various labs at the same time as biopsies of the skin were being performed on the family by a dermatologist. Joint diagnosis confirmed Monkeypox. Quick action taken by the CDC, USDA and APHIS contained the outbreak. No person died. Monkeypox has not been seen in the United States since.
As a small town veterinarian I have been involved with potential cases of Rabies, Salmonella, Campylobacter, Avian tuberculosis, Chlamydiosis and West Nile disease. All veterinarians are here to serve.
Christine B. McFadden, DVM