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05:42 PM ET 06/19/99

Tumors Plague Squirrels in Florida

 Tumors Plague Squirrels in Florida
           WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) _ Squirrels riddled with crusty brown
 tumors _ some covering 90 percent of their body _ have been
 reported in eight Florida counties in a pox outbreak experts said
 is the worst since the 1970s.
           Between 300 and 500 of the squirrels have popped up in the
 backyards of residential neighborhoods, said pathologists studying
 the epidemic at the University of Florida.
           The scientists believe thousands more are infected with the
 disease, which is specific to squirrels and cannot be contracted by
 other wildlife, pets or humans.
           Transmitted by mosquitoes, the disease almost always attacks the
 eyes, leaving its little victims blind and unable to plunder bird
 feeders.
           The pox leaves the squirrels' eyes swollen ``as big as
 marbles,'' Florida Game and Freshwater Fish Commission biologist
 Timothy Regan said.
           The animals eventually starve to death or die from
 bacteria-infecting tumors. There is no treatment or preventive
 vaccine.