A Weekly Column
By Joseph Walker


There are a few things I donít understand about the recent monkeypox outbreak.

The name, for example.From everything Iíve read, monkeypox doesnít have any more to do with monkeys than chickenpox has to do with chickens or smallpox has to do with Gary Coleman.Scientists seem to think prairie dogs are to blame.The theory is the prairie dogs got it from a Gambian giant rat, although nobody seems to know how.My guess is they met in an internet chat room and e-mailed DNA samples to each other.But I could be wrong about that.

All the doctors seem to know is that the infection in humans originally came from close contact with infected prairie dogs.Now, let me just say this about prairie dogs: THEY ARE NOT REALLY DOGS!!!Are we clear on this?They are rodents Ė you know, like rats, which explains their attraction to their Gambian counterpart.In the American West farmers and ranchers pay hunters who canít get enough killing during deer season to take out as many prairie dogs as they can find.They are pests, pure and simple (the prairie dogs, not the hunters).Trying to make pets of prairie dogs because they have the word ďdogĒ in their name is like trying to get feathers out of a can of tuna because it has the words ďChicken of the SeaĒ on the can.

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), in humans the illness produces fever, headache, aching muscles, chills, drenching sweat and sometimes a cough.A rash forms on the head, torso and extremities.The lesions are firm, whitish and filled with pus.In a week or so they crust over and turn into scabs.This, it seems to me, is a high price to pay for the thrill of petting an overgrown rat.

And the CDC agrees.In fact, they recommend that you avoid contact with any prairie dogs or Gambian giant rats Ė especially if they appear to be ill.Normally, one would think that this is would be a natural thing to do.Most people I know avoid prairie dogs and Gambian rats Ė giant or otherwise Ė like the monkeypox.But for some reason, some people seem to enjoy monkeying around with prairie dogs.Itís the same reason people agree to appear on Jerry Springer, or crooks agree to be interviewed by Mike Wallace for ď60 Minutes.ĒFor these people, I would like to point out that you can tell a sick prairie dog by the fact that he may be missing patches of fur, have a visible rash on the skin, or have discharge from the eyes or nose.

Youíre not eating dinner, are you?

The CDC further advises that you wash your hands thoroughly after any contact with prairie dogs, Gambian giant rats, or any ill animal.But I have a better idea.STAY AWAY FROM PRAIRIE DOGS AND GAMBIAN RATS Ė PERIOD!!!Isnít that easier?Just stay away from them.Donít go near them.Donít touch them.Donít play with them.Donít take them to preschool.Donít bring them with you on the bus.Just say no to rodents.

Simple, huh?But effective.In fact, itís the only real answer.And if not touching prairie dogs and Gambian rats helps us through the monkeypox outbreak, perhaps we can apply that same philosophy to other medical crises we face.Just think of the impact on lung cancer rates if we all didnít touch tobacco.Fatalities resulting from drunk driving would be eliminated if drivers didnít touch alcohol.And sexually transmitted disease would become a thing of the past if people didnít touch . . . well . . . if they all practiced abstinence before marriage and fidelity after.

Just donít touch.

Hey, it worked in kindergarten.And weíre a lot smarter now than we were then.

Arenít we?

# # #

--- © Joseph Walker


Look for Joe's book, "How Can You Mend a Broken Spleen? Home Remedies for an Ailing World." It is available on-line through