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 June 14, 2003
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Prairie Dogs Trigger Midwest Illness
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At least 13 people in Wisconsin and Illinois got sick after buying prairie dogs that may have been infected with a virus, health officials say.

The victims reported fever, coughs, rashes and swollen lymph nodes within two weeks of contact with the prairie dogs, Dr. Mark Wegner, chief of the Wisconsin Communicable Disease Epidemiology Section, told the Associated Press. All have recovered, he added.

Wegner said he had never encountered a case of prairie dogs making people sick, but noted diseases can move from animals to people.

About 30 prairie dogs that may have been infected with an orthopox virus, which causes poxes marked by skin rashes, were shipped from Texas to Illinois to a man in Wisconsin, who sold them to two Milwaukee pet stores and a Wausau swap meet, according to a spokeswoman for the Wisconsin agriculture department. Eleven other prairie dogs from the shipment were found at the two pet stores; some were sick, and all were euthanized, the spokeswoman said.

Federal and state officials are trying to track the origin of the prairie dog shipment and whether any other animals were sold from it.


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