The Munich Outbreak of Cutaneous Cowpox Infection: Transmission by Infected Pet Rats
Sandra Vogel, Miklós Sárdy, Katharina Glos, Hans Christian Korting, Thomas Ruzicka, Andreas Wollenberg
Cowpox virus infection of humans is an uncommon, potentially fatal, skin disease. It is largely confined to
Europe, but is not found in Eire, or in the USA, Australasia, or the Middle or Far East. Patients having contact with infected cows, cats, or small rodents sporadically contract the disease from these animals. We report here clinical aspects of 8 patients from the Munich area who had purchased infected pet rats from a local supplier. Pet rats are a novel potential source of local outbreaks. The morphologically distinctive skin lesions are mostly restricted to the patients’ necks, reflecting the infected animals’ contact pattern. Individual lesions vaguely resemble orf or Milker’s nodule, but show marked surrounding erythema, firm induration and local adenopathy. Older lesions develop eschar, leaving slow-healing, deep ulcerative defects after eschar separation. Severe flu-like illness may be present in the acute phase. Smallpox-vaccinated patients tend to develop less severe reactions and heal more quickly. The differential diagnosis may include other localized orthopoxvirus infections, herpes simplex, bacterial infection, anthrax, foreign body granuloma, and primary tuberculosis. Dermatologists should be aware of the diagnostic and therapeutic algorithms for handling this disease.