- Cats are the source of about half of all human cowpox virus infections.
- Human infection is often limited to a single lesion on the hand or face, but spread to other sites may occur, for example hand to face.
- Widespread infection and severe disease can develop in immunosuppressed individuals or those with a pre-existing skin disease. Human cowpox often a causes some systemic illness with 'flu-like symptoms, and may require hospitalisation.
- Occasional human deaths have also been reported.
- Smallpox vaccination, even recent, may not provide complete protection against primary cowpox virus infection, although it might prevent the development of more severe disease.
Human cowpox is not common: two or three cases are reported each year in the UK. Experience suggests that transmission from cats to humans is unlikely if basic hygiene precautions are taken.
Veterinary surgeons and others handling infected cats should wear gloves and take care not to allow infected material into wounds or the eyes. Young children, the elderly and those with a pre-existing skin condition or with debilitative or immunosuppressive disease should avoid contact with the cat while the scabs remain.
The virus is extremely hardy, and may remain infectious in dry material kept cool for several months or even years. However, it is susceptible to most disinfectants, particularly hypochlorite.
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