Infected people urged to stay away from pets to protect them from monkeypox

People infected with monkeypox are being urged not to cuddle their pets, as the virus could potentially be transmitted from humans to animals.

Monkeypox can be transmitted from animals to humans through a bite or direct contact with an affected animal's blood, meat, bodily fluids or lesions, and while there have been no reports of monkeypox in pets, human-to-animal transmission is "theoretically possible".

On Monday a risk assessment by the European Centre for Disease Control (ECDC) warned people to manage exposure to pets, as it is important to prevent the disease from being transmitted to wildlife and spreading further.

"If human-to-animal transmission occurs, and the virus spreads in an animal population, there is a risk that the disease could become endemic," ECDC said.

"Rodents, and particularly species of the family of Sciuridae (squirrels) are likely to be suitable hosts, more so than humans, and transmission from humans to (pet) animals is theoretically possible."

While the probability is low, the report says a spillover event could lead to the virus establishing itself in wildlife and becoming an "endemic zoonosis".

First identified in laboratory monkeys, the virus can more commonly be found in rats, mice and squirrels, but it is unknown if any other animals can harbour the virus.

The ECDC said infected individuals are being urged to note if they come into contact with pets and animal health services should be contacted for advice.

"As such, there needs to be a close intersectoral collaboration between human and veterinary public health authorities to manage exposed pets and prevent the disease from being transmitted to wildlife," ECDC said.

Early symptoms of monkeypox include flu-like symptoms, such as fever, headaches, aching muscles and swollen lymph nodes. This is then followed by a rash and lesions.

There have been over 100 confirmed cases and more than 200 suspected cases of monkeypox in the latest outbreak. It has yet to reach New Zealand.