Poxviruses compromise a group of long known important pathogens including some zoonotic members affecting lifestock animals and humans. While whole genome sequence analysis started to shed light into the molecular mechanisms underlying host cell infection, viral replication as well as virulence, our understanding of poxvirus maintenance in nature and their transmission to humans is still poor. During the last two decades, reports on emerging human monkeypox outbreaks in Africa and North America, the increasing number of cowpox virus infections in cats, exotic animals and humans and cases of vaccinia virus infections in humans in South America and India reminded us that - beside the eradicated smallpox virus - there are other poxviruses that can cause harm to men. We start to learn that the host range of some poxviruses is way broader than initially thought and that mainly rodents seem to function as virus reservoir. The following review is aiming to provide an up-to-date overview on the epidemiology of zoonotic poxviruses, emphasizing orthopoxviruses. By outlining the current knowledge of poxvirus transmission, we hope to raise the awareness about modes of acquisition of infections and their proper diagnosis.
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