Investigators in seven states in the United States are racing to stem the first outbreak of monkeypox in the Western Hemisphere. As Carol Pearson reports, monkeypox is believed to have infected close to 50 people who have had contact with pet prairie dogs, small rodents native to the U.S.

While monkeypox is associated with monkeys in the African rainforest, the virus can infect other animals, including people. Some prairie dogs being sold as pets in the United States are thought to have gotten the monkeypox virus from African rats that were handled by the same pet dealer.

The fear is that infected prairie dogs might pass the disease on to other wild rodents or rabbits. So U.S. health officials are trying to stop the spread of monkeypox before the disease becomes established in the United States.

Tuesday, Dr. Mark Magenheim of the Sarasota, Florida, Health Department said he is investigating the case of a family that reported a strange rash.

?This family has a pet prairie dog similar to the animals that have been identified with the Midwest cases. And in connection with their prairie dog pet, some of the family members have observed rash illnesses themselves.?

There?s a movement to get people to stick with traditional pets, like dogs and cats.

NATURAL SOUND - Tabatha Cappamaggio
?Come here, kiss, kiss.?

But people like Tabatha Cappamaggio love their pet prairie dogs.

?They?re really, really loveable animals and they?ll let you rub their belly all day long, and they?re really cute when they eat. They?re just really friendly and playful.?

Monkeypox is less severe than smallpox, but it can be fatal, especially for children. Unlike SARS, scientists do not believe monkeypox can spread from one human to another. For now, the only way to get it is from an infected animal.