The orthopoxviruses (OPV) comprise several emerging viruses with great importance to human and veterinary medicine, including vaccinia virus (VACV), which causes outbreaks of bovine vaccinia (BV) in South America. Historically, VACV is the most comprehensively studied virus, however, its origin and natural hosts remain unknown. VACV was the primary component of the smallpox vaccine, largely used during the smallpox eradication campaign. After smallpox was declared eradicated, the vaccination that conferred immunity to OPV was discontinued, favoring a new contingent of susceptible individuals to OPV. VACV infections occur naturally after direct contact with infected dairy cattle, in recently vaccinated individuals, or through alternative routes of exposure. In Brazil, VACV outbreaks are frequently reported in rural areas, affecting mainly farm animals and humans. Recent studies have shown the role of wildlife in the VACV transmission chain, exploring the role of wild rodents as reservoirs that facilitate VACV spread throughout rural areas. Furthermore, VACV circulation in urban environments and the significance of this with respect to public health, have also been explored. In this review, we discuss the history, epidemiological, ecological and clinical aspects of natural VACV infections in Brazil, also highlighting alternative routes of VACV transmission, the factors involved in susceptibility to infection, and the natural history of the disease in humans and animals, and the potential for dissemination to urban environments.
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