Local News

State Testing Two Prairie Dogs For Monkeypox Virus

Posted June 20, 2003 12:28 p.m. EDT

— Two prairie dogs found at a park in Guilford County have state health officials rushing to test them for monkeypox.

Prairie dogs have been linked to an outbreak in some states of monkeypox, a virus that causes severe flulike symptoms.

"Certainly we consider it serious," said Dr. Greg Smith, an epidemiologist with the state Division of Public Health. "We need to make absolutely sure we don't have monkeypox established in our wild animal population."

Rangers at Guilford County Courthouse National Military Park caught one prairie dog on June 13, said Charles Cranfield, the park's superintendent. It was so tame, they snared it with a butterfly net, he said. They caught the second Thursday afternoon, Cranfield said.

Releasing prairie dogs into the wild is a federal offense.

Since early June, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed 17 cases of the virus in people, though no one has died. Most cases have been traced to prairie dogs distributed by Phil's Pocket Pets of Villa Park, Ill. Those animals were sold to stores in 15 states, but not in North Carolina, according to the state public health department.

But Smith said they want to test the military park prairie dogs anyway, since they don't know who released the animals or their state of origin.

He said prairie dogs also can carry plague and tularemia, another virus that causes flulike symptoms.

"The risk to humans from prairie dogs is extremely low," he said. "People should not be concerned about using the park."