On March 1, 2003, CBP was created as the single, unified border agency for the U.S., Combining forces and expertise from U.S. Customs Service, Immigration & Naturalization Service and the Department of Agriculture. CBP plays a vital role in protecting the lives and livelihood of persons living in the United States.
While CBP's role in securing the borders against illegal crossings and contraband is well known, its role in preventing the spread of diseases is equally important.
In June 2003, CBP joined forces with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to prevent the entry of all rodents from Africa in an effort to prevent further introduction and spread of the monkeypox virus in the United States.
Human monkeypox virus, a rare viral disease that occurred primarily in the rain forest countries of Central and West Africa, was first discovered in the United Sates, in Texas, in 2003. The trace back investigations identified the source to be a shipment of animals from Ghana. The shipment contained approximately 800 small mammals of nine different species, including six genera of African rodents. These rodents included rope squirrels (Funiscuirus sp.), tree squirrels (Heliosciurus sp.), Gambian giant rats (Cricetomys sp.), brush-tailed porcupines (Atherurus sp.), dormice (Graphiurus sp.), and striped mice (Hybomys sp.).
Gambian rats from this shipment eventually made their way to an Illinois animal facility (pet shop) where they were kept in close proximity to prairie dogs, which became infected. The infected prairie dogs were sold to customers who later contracted the disease. CDC laboratory tested some of the animals using Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) and virus isolation, which demonstrated that one Gambian giant rat, three dormice, and two rope squirrels from the April 9, 2003, importation were infected with the monkeypox virus. Evidence of infection was found in some animals that had been separated from the rest of the shipment on the day of their arrival into the United States, indicating early and possibly widespread infection among the remaining animals in the shipment. The laboratory investigations confirmed that multiple animal species were susceptible and capable of spreading the monkeypox virus.
Working with CDC and FDA, CBP moved quickly to prevent the importation of additional animals that may carry the virus. This type of enforcement action is another example of how CBP is the frontline defense against the myriad threats.