Wisconsin bans prairie-dog sales after illness

Saturday, June 7, 2003

MADISON, Wis. -- Wisconsin health officials ordered a ban Friday on the sale, importation and display of prairie dogs after a dozen people were sickened from exposure to the animals.

Health officials said all 12 people in Wisconsin had recovered or were getting better, although three remained in a suburban Milwaukee hospital Friday in satisfactory condition. Two other people were sickened in Illinois.

Although it was unclear what disease the prairie dogs carried, Wisconsin agriculture officials connected all 14 sicknesses to a single shipment of 30 of the burrowing rodents, sold by a Wisconsin man to pet stores and at a swap meet in Wausau.

Samples of seven euthanized prairie dogs from the shipment -- obtained by state agriculture officials from a pet store -- were being tested by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

People sickened reported fever, coughs, rashes and swollen lymph nodes within one to two weeks of contact with the prairie dogs, which have become popular as pets.

Eight people in Milwaukee, four in northern Wisconsin and two in Illinois were sickened after being exposed to prairie dogs from the shipment, Wisconsin public health veterinarian Jim Kazmierczak said.

"We may get additional cases as more people become aware of this," Kazmierczak said.

State health officials said the emergency rule banning prairie dog sales will take effect next week.

Kazmierczak said bubonic plague and tularemia, which prairie dogs are known to be able to transmit, have been ruled out as the source of the sickness.

He said the illnesses could have resulted from an orthopoxvirus, which causes rashes on the skin.

The orthopoxvirus family includes monkeypox, smallpox and cowpox.

Officials have located at least 11 of the prairie dogs at two Milwaukee pet stores and were tracking the rest.

State agriculture department spokeswoman Donna Gilson declined to identify the man who obtained the 30 sick animals, which were shipped from Texas to Illinois. She said state officials hadn't yet been able to talk to him.

Texas Department of Health spokesman Doug McBride said Friday the state had no reports of illness associated with prairie dogs.


On the Net:

Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection: http://datcp.state.wi.us/index.jsp

Wisconsin Division of Health and Family Services: http://www.dhfs.state.wi.us/

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