Rodent imports from Africa banned; domestic commerce prohibited

| 6/24/2003

Health & Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson has announced an immediate embargo on the importation of all rodents from Africa due to the potential that these rodents can spread monkeypox virus infection to other animal species and to humans.

In addition, the secretary also announced a ban within the United States on the distribution, sale and transport of prairie dogs and six specific African rodent species implicated in the current monkeypox outbreak.

The action, issued in accordance with regulations provided under the Public Health Service Act, will remain in effect until further notice.

"The current outbreak of monkeypox in humans has the potential to pose a threat to public health in the United States," Thompson said. "Today's action is an important step we must take in order to help prevent further spread of this virus."

The order prohibits the importation of all rodents from Africa. In addition, it prohibits within the United States the distribution, sale, transportation and intentional release into the environment of prairie dogs and the following rodent species: tree squirrels (Sciurus); rope squirrels (Funisciurus); dormices (Graphiurus); Gambian giant pouched rats (Cricetomys gambianus); brush-tailed porcupines (Atherurus africanus); and striped mice (Typomys).

HHS also is advising individuals who have acquired an animal named in the order since April 15 to carefully monitor their own health and the health of the animal. Should an individual exhibit symptoms, such as a rash accompanied by a fever, cough or aches, or become ill, they should immediately contact a physician. Should an animal become ill, individuals should immediately contact a veterinarian, contain the animal in an appropriate carrier and transport it to the veterinarian without other people or pets in the vehicle. Under no circumstances should such animals be intentionally released into the wild.

The ban implemented today does not apply to individuals who transport listed animals to veterinarians, animal control officials or other entities recommended by federal, state, or local government authorities.

HHS has determined, under its authority in the Public Health Service Act, that the current monkeypox outbreak is an interstate problem that requires the use of this federal authority.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has the authority to implement and enforce the foreign importation embargo. Both CDC and the Food and Drug Administration have shared authority for implementing and enforcing the ban on distribution, sale and transport of these animals within the United States. FDA and CDC will work jointly, along with other federal agencies, to enforce these public health measures.

CDC is working with state and local health departments to investigate an outbreak of monkeypox in persons who have had contact with prairie dogs. These prairie dogs, sold to individuals as pets, most likely became infected with monkeypox at a dealer after being exposed to rodents imported from Africa.

Six rodent species were imported from Africa and have since been sold in the United States. CDC is investigating which species of rodents imported from Africa may be playing a role in this outbreak. As of June 11, 2003, 54 cases of monkeypox were under investigation in Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana and New Jersey.