Health Advisory From New York State Health Commissioner Antonia C. Novello, M.D., M.P.H., Dr.P.H.

ALBANY, July 3, 2003 - The New York State Department of Health is advising individuals who purchased prairie dogs from "Pets" in Bethpage (Nassau County) between May 5 - 25 or "Zeus Aquarium" in Bayshore (Suffolk County) between May 6 - 13 to contact county health officials. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the animals may have been exposed to monkeypox. CDC believes 12 prairie dogs delivered in Nassau and Suffolk counties were in direct contact with infected African rodents shipped to a Texas distributor. Other mammals (dogs, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, etc.) housed at the pet stores during these same time periods may also be at risk for monkeypox, due to their exposure to the prairie dogs. Illness in these animals should be reported to county health officials, as well. If individuals who have purchased any of these pets experience symptoms of fever and rash, they should seek medical evaluation.

Monkeypox is related to smallpox, but is less serious and not as easily transmitted from person to person. In mid-May, the disease first occurred in the Midwestern United States, linked to exposure to infected rodents, primarily prairie dogs. More than 80 human cases of monkeypox are confirmed or suspected as a part of that outbreak; however, none have occurred in New York State. Under no circumstances should individuals who own pet prairie dogs release them outdoors, as that could result in monkeypox becoming established among native wildlife species.

Following is contact information for local health officials:

Nassau County - 516-571-2649.

Suffolk County - 631-852-4815.