Six species of African rodents are now prohibited in Colorado and transportation of any species of prairie dog is prohibited as part of an emergency regulation adopted by the Colorado Wildlife Commission during a Thursday meeting in Steamboat Springs.
It will be unlawful to transport, import or export tree squirrels, rope squirrels, dormice, Gambian giant pouched rats, brush-tailed porcupines, striped mice and any prairie dog without expressed written authorization of the Division of Wildlife. The animals, which are sometimes bought and sold as pets, have been found to be possible carriers of monkeypox, a rare viral disease that has recently broken out in the United States.
In May 2003, cases of human monkeypox virus were found in about 50 people in Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana and New Jersey. On June 16, a human case was also identified in Kentucky, and another more recently in Kansas City, Kan., according to a fact sheet provided by the DOW Thursday.
All but one of the people who contracted the disease had been in contact with sick prairie dogs; one person apparently contracted it from a domestic rabbit. All of the pet prairie dogs were bought in pet stores from a shipment that was housed with up to six listed African rodents.
Many accounts have attributed the spread of the disease by the Gambian rat, but it is still undetermined which of the six species is responsible for transmitting the disease to the other pet species.
"One of these species is a transmitter of monkeypox," said Mike King, regulation coordinator for the Division of Wildlife. "No cases have been reported in Colorado, and we want to keep it that way."
Monkeypox is found mostly in rainforests of central and West Africa. The disease got its name because it first was discovered in laboratory monkeys in 1958, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Animal blood tests later revealed monkeypox infection in rodent species. The virus that causes monkeypox was recovered from an African squirrel, which may be the natural host. Lab studies confirmed the virus also could infect rats, mice and rabbits, according to the CDC.
No permits have been issued in Colorado for any of the African rodents, so King said probably no one in Colorado owns any of them. One Colorado commercial facility has prairie dogs, and now it cannot transport the animals within the state, but only export with the expressed written consent of the DOW.
People can get monkeypox from an infected animal through a bite or direct contact with the animal's blood, body fluids or lesions, according to the CDC. Symptoms of monkeypox in humans are similar to those of smallpox.