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State Testing Two Prairie Dogs For Monkeypox Virus

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GREENSBORO, N.C. — Two prairie dogs found at a park inGuilford County have state health officials rushing to test themfor monkeypox.

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

"Certainly we consider it serious," said Dr. Greg Smith, anepidemiologist with the state Division of Public Health. "We needto make absolutely sure we don't have monkeypox established in ourwild animal population."

Rangers at Guilford County Courthouse National Military Parkcaught one prairie dog on June 13, said Charles Cranfield, thepark's superintendent. It was so tame, they snared it with abutterfly 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 Preventionhas confirmed 17 cases of the virus in people, though no one hasdied. Most cases have been traced to prairie dogs distributed byPhil's Pocket Pets of Villa Park, Ill. Those animals were sold tostores in 15 states, but not in North Carolina, according to thestate public health department.

But Smith said they want to test the military park prairie dogsanyway, since they don't know who released the animals or theirstate 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," hesaid. "People should not be concerned about using the park."

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