Prairie dogs prove to be dangerous |

Prairie dogs prove to be dangerous

DENVER – State epidemiologists point to the outbreak of illness from monkeypox-like virus from prairie dogs in three Midwestern states as a reminder to not handle prairie dogs or other wildlife.

At least 19 people have been infected in Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana with the newly described virus following contact with prairie dogs or Gambian giant rats, an exotic species of rodent being sold as pets.

No cases have been reported in Colorado, according to John Pape, a specialist in animal-related diseases for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s Disease Control and Environmental Epidemiology Division.

“We do not expect this to be a problem in Colorado since it is illegal to sell or own a prairie dog as a pet,” Pape said.

In addition to being associated with the recent outbreak of monkeypox virus, prairie dogs also can transmit plague and tularemia, highly infectious bacterial diseases.

“There have been outbreaks of plague and tularemia in prairie dogs being held for sale as pets. Who knows what type of virus or bacteria might be carried by Gambian giant rats or other imported animals,” Pape added.

Pape said that individuals can greatly reduce the risk of becoming infected with plague by taking simple precautions, including avoiding contact with rodents.

Pape advised: “Do not feed rodents or prairie dogs in picnic or campground areas and never handle sick or dead rodents and prairie dogs. Leave your pets at home when visiting rural areas.”

Other precautions against exposure to plague offered by Pape:

– Avoid walking, hiking or camping near rodent burrows.

– Wear long pants tucked into boot tops to reduce exposure to fleas. Spray insect repellent on socks and trouser cuffs.

– Individuals living in areas where plague is known to occur should keep wild rodents out of homes, trailers and outbuildings and away from pets.

For more information, call (303) 692-2700.

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