Journal of Hygiene

Research Article

An outbreak of cowpox in captive cheetahs: virological and epidemiological studies

D. Baxbya1, D. G. Ashtona2, D. M. Jonesa2 and L. R. Thomsetta3

a1 University of Liverpool Department of Medical Microbiology, Royal Liverpool Hospital, Liverpool, L7 8XW

a2 Zoological Society of London, Whipsnade Park, Dunstable, LL16 2LF

a3 Royal Veterinary College, Hatfield, AL9 7SZ


This paper describes virological and epidemiological features of an infection which killed two of three affected cheetahs at Whipsnade Park in 1977. Two animals had profuse skin lesions and the third had an acute haemorrhagic pneumonia. The outbreak was shown to be caused by cowpox virus. Cowpox virus is believed to circulate in small wild animals, but the source of infection was not traced despite virological and serological tests on 93 captive and 102 wild animals.

Sub-clinical infections did not occur in susceptible contact cheetahs. Immune globulin did not influence the outcome and smallpox vaccine does not take in cheetahs. Management of any future outbreak will rely on prompt diagnosis and segregation of infected animals.