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Cowpox Viruses: A Zoo Full of Viral Diversity and Lurking Threats


Cowpox viruses (CPXVs) exhibit the broadest known host range among the Poxviridae family and have caused lethal outbreaks in various zoo animals and pets across 12 Eurasian countries, as well as an increasing number of human cases. Herein, we review the history of how the cowpox name has evolved since the 1700s up to modern times. Despite early documentation of the different properties of CPXV isolates, only modern genetic analyses and phylogenies have revealed the existence of multiple Orthopoxvirus species that are currently constrained under the CPXV designation. We further chronicle modern outbreaks in zoos, domesticated animals, and humans, and describe animal models of experimental CPXV infections and how these can help shaping CPXV species distinctions. We also describe the pathogenesis of modern CPXV infections in animals and humans, the geographic range of CPXVs, and discuss CPXV-host interactions at the molecular level and their effects on pathogenicity and host range. Finally, we discuss the potential threat of these viruses and the future of CPXV research to provide a comprehensive review of CPXVs.

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