Florida monkeys could pass killer herpes to people

Florence Fletcher
January 13, 2018

Roaming monkeys in Florida are being removed by the state's wildlife managers because of the growing fear that they are excreting a virus that can be risky to humans.

Non-native rhesus macaques in Florida's Silver Springs State Park have tested positive for herpes B, a potentially fatal disease that is spread through bodily fluids and may be transmissible to humans. A new study, out in the February issue of Emerging Infectious Diseases, reveals that the population is also spreading a unsafe type of herpes.

The scientists also discovered that as many as 14 percent of the monkeys shed DNA from the virus in their saliva, presenting a risk of virus transmission to humans, the researchers reported in a new study, which was published online in the February 2018 issue of the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases. But members of the group "supports the removal of these monkeys from the environment to help reduce the threat they pose", they told the Associated Press.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission did not expand on what particular administration strategies the state may utilize, however a rep said the commission underpins freeing the condition of the obtrusive animals. They have been spotted in trees in the Ocala, Sarasota and Tallahassee areas, The Guardian reports. However, 21 one of the infected people died from the disease. When the disease does occur, however, it can result in brain damage or death.

The virus is rare in humans. Blood samples from 317 macaques revealed that 84 monkeys carried the virus and that the odds of a monkey being infected increased with age.

Wiley said the researchers are interested in seeing the virulency of the pathogens.

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Now almost 30% of the monkeys roaming the park are excreting the herpes B virus through saliva and other body fluids.

"Human visitors to the park are most likely to be exposed ... through contact with saliva from macaque bites and scratches or from contact with virus shed through urine and feces", the paper's authors wrote. They got to the state the usual way - by hitching a ride with misguided humans who thought the cute little creatures could draw tourists. Humans feeding the monkeys is a common activity along the Silver River. "Monkey, monkey, monkey!" he cried. At this point, population control may be more realistic than eradicating the monkeys.

While there are no official statistics on monkey attacks on humans in the park, a state-sponsored study in the 1990s found 31 monkey-human incidents, with 23 resulting in human injury between 1977 and 1984.

The rhesus macaques are an invasive species native to Southeast Asia.

"We don't have any silver bullet; that's the nature of science", Wisely said. The paper recommends that Florida wildlife managers consider the virus in future policy decisions.

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