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60 U.S. prairie dogs may be infected with tularemia.

TOKYO, Aug. 8 Kyodo

Sixty prairie dogs imported to Japan as pets from Texas may be infected with tularemia, health ministry officials said Thursday.

The animals were exported to Japan by a Texan firm called Texas Animal Export, they said, adding that tularemia bacteria were detected in several prairie dogs that died suddenly at the firm's facilities.

The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare has issued a warning to medical authorities and called on companies in Japan to refrain from buying the pets from the company, they said.

Tularemia is an infectious disease mainly affecting wild rabbits. The disease can also be transmitted to humans and causes symptoms such as fever.

The disease can usually be cured with antibiotics but there is a particularly virulent strain in the United States, and there have been reports in the past of people dying of the disease after failing to get medical treatment, according to the officials.

They said owners of prairie dogs should consult with health officials if their pets die and they themselves develop symptoms.

The incubation period of Tularemia is about two months, the officials said, adding the 60 prairie dogs concerned were imported to Japan from June to August.

A prairie dog is a type of burrowing rodent with a barklike cry, which mainly lives in the U.S. and Mexico.

Last year, more than 13,000 prairie dogs were imported to Japan, according to government statistics. They sell for 10,000-40,000 yen in Japan.

U.S. authorities have begun investigating how many prairie dogs have been exported and where in cooperation with the World Health Organization (WHO).
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Publication:Japan Weekly Monitor
Date:Aug 12, 2002
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