What is cowpox

Cowpox lesions on the udder

cow-pox is a mild pox-like disease that has long affected mainly cattle. The cowpox pathogen is infectious for all mammals including humans. Today it is referred to as Original cowpox an infection with Orthopoxvirus bovis or as Elephant pox an infection with its varietyOrthopoxvirus bovis var. Elefanti. All of these viruses belong to the genusOrthopoxvirus at. Orthopoxvirus vaccinia is a laboratory strain of the cowpox virus.

People can also get cowpox. In earlier years, the transition from domestic cattle took place mostly during milking and was limited to the hands (milker's knots).

In Germany in recent years "no more cattle infection has been documented. Today, cowpox is increasingly observed in cats, but also in zoo animals, with infections in elephants and rhinos mostly being fatal.[1]

The disease is not notifiable.


After six forerunners, including Mrs. Sevel, Mr. Jensen, Mr. Benjamin Jesty (in 1774), Mrs. Rendall and Peter Plett (in 1791),[2] Edward Jenner (1749-1823) also recognized in 1796 that people suffering from cowpox are not only immune to cowpox, but also immune to smallpox, the pathogen of which is closely related to the vaccinia virus. Edward Jenner coined the term vaccination (lat.vacca = Cow) for the smallpox vaccination.


Cowpox virus has so far only been detected in Europe, from Northern Europe and Great Britain to the Urals. Today rodents such as mice are considered to be the main host animals. Two out of a hundred cats that were serologically tested for the orthopox virus were found to be positive and were believed to have become infected when they were eaten by mice. The pathogens can also be transmitted to humans from infected cats, which is why these cases are sometimes referred to as “cat pox”. A direct transition from a rat to a girl has also been documented from the Netherlands. [1]

The number of registered cowpox infections in Germany has increased in recent years. It is unclear whether this is primarily due to increased attention on the part of doctors or to falling immunity to the viruses after vaccination against human smallpox was discontinued in the 1970s.

Current cases

In January 2009 five women from Munich and Dachau fell ill with cowpox, which was transmitted by "pet rats" from a Munich pet shop. A few days after the purchase, the typical symptoms arose, such as an itchy, painful rash, swollen lymph nodes with a high fever and symptoms of fatigue and ulcers up to two centimeters in size spread over the upper body. According to the Robert Koch Institute, human diseases have also been reported from other federal states, including from North Rhine-Westphalia, especially in the Krefeld area. The disease is partly not recognized because of its rare occurrence. [3][4]


Rodents usually show no symptoms after infection. However, cats can develop large wounds on the skin, through which they excrete large amounts of virus and thus infect people. The disease is fatal for many cats.

Infected people often have flu-like symptoms after an incubation period of 7 to 12 days. Skin rashes often form on the hands and legs as well as around the eyes and take 6 to 8 weeks to heal. In addition, the surrounding tissue (necrosis) can die at the source of the infection.

Treatment in humans

No vaccine against cowpox is approved in Germany. People who have been vaccinated against human smallpox have relatively good vaccination protection against cowpox as well.

According to the Robert Koch Institute, there is currently no therapy against cowpox. In the case of an existing infection, it is recommended that open skin wounds be treated locally with antibiotics to protect against additional bacterial infection.

It is important to avoid any direct skin contact with open skin wounds in humans and animals by wearing gloves.

See also

  • smallpox
  • Medal for cowpox vaccination

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. 1,01,1Robert Koch Institute: Epidemiological Bulletin No. 10/2007 of March 9, 2007
  2. Sudhoff's archive. Volume 90, Issue 2, 2006, pp. 219-232.
  3. ↑ Robert Koch Institute: Cowpox: On an accumulation of infections after contact with "cuddly rats" in the greater Munich area., Epidemiological Bulletin 6/2009, February 9, 2009
  4. ↑ Becker, C; Kurth, A; Hessler, F; Kramp, H; Gokel, M; Hoffmann, R; Kuczka, A; Nitsche, A: Cowpox in keepers of pet rats: a clinical picture that is not always immediately recognized. Dtsch Arztebl Int 2009; 106 (19): 329-34 full text, DOI: 10.3238 / arztebl.2009.0329