Recent headlines about the threat of Zika virus have hit the news and social media. Scary stories about people getting sick have caught people’s attention. Even though it is in the headlines now, Zika virus is not new. It has been found in monkeys and apes since the 1940s. Usually disease in nonhuman primates is mild with only a transient fever, but the humans affected by Zika virus are much more significantly affected. Since the discussion has included monkeys and apes, people wonder if their pets are at risk or can serve as a risk to them.
Here is a little background info about Zika virus. The disease is spread by the bite of a mosquito (Aedes species) and the particular mosquito is the one that carries other diseases that have made the news, like dengue and chikungunya. There have no reports of Zika being spread to humans through direct contact with animals. Aedes mosquitoes prefer to bite humans, so infected humans are definitely a source of continuing human infection. Zika virus can harm human babies during pregnancy because it can pass from the mother into the fetus during gestation or at the time of birth, causing fetal brain defects, so concern is justified.
Although no one has been able to prove direct transmission from monkeys to humans, one study isolated virus from monkeys in Brazil near to an area that had high rates of human illness. We don’t know if monkeys harbor the virus and can serve as a hidden source for human infection. More research needs to be done in this area.
Domestic animals including cows, goats, and ducks were only found to become infected by Zika in a single small study in Indonesia completed in the 1970s and these animals did not become ill. There is no evidence that they were able to serve as a source of infection to humans. No other type of domestic animal or pet has ever been shown to become sick from Zika.
It seems that infected humans are the source of the frightening infection and not animals. Even if your pet happens to be exposed, he is not likely to become ill in any way and will not be able to spread infection to you or your family. As always, seek professional help if you or your pet become ill, regardless if your concern is Zika.
For more information, check out https://www.cdc.gov/zika/transmission/qa-animals.html.
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