Don't Touch the Monkeys! Florida Macaques Carry Virus Lethal to Humans

Light Rocket via Getty Images

Light Rocket via Getty Images

All infected people were infected by contact with monkeys in labs. They could infect the humans they meet by biting them.

As many as 30 percent of the rhesus macaque monkeys at the Silver Springs State Park in Central Florida excrete the virus through saliva and other bodily fluids, researchers found through blood sample data of 317 rhesus macaques examined in Marion County, Florida, between 2000 and 2012.

The herpes B virus has been fatal to 21 of the 50 humans known to have contracted it from macaque bites and scratches while working with the animals in laboratories, according to the CDC. Yet the researchers have not scrutinized this issue in depth.

State officials would not go into detail about their plan for removing the monkeys going forward.

While occurrences in the wild have not been reported so far, officials are taking the problem seriously and are considering ridding the state of the species for good to keep the virus from spreading.

"Without management action, the presence and continued expansion of non-native rhesus macaques in Florida can result in serious human health and safety risks including human injury and transmission of disease", Thomas Eason, assistant executive director of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, said in a statement.

"The commission supports the removal of these monkeys from the environment to help reduce the threat they pose".

"When it does occur, it can result in severe brain damage or death if the patient is not treated immediately", the CDC noted.

Now, researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that about 25 percent of the monkeys carry macacine herpesvirus 1 (McHV-1), which causes only mild symptoms, if any, in monkeys but can be deadly in people.

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

Samantha Wisely said, "Once you become infected with the virus, you carry it forever". They got to the state the usual way - by hitching a ride with misguided humans who thought the cute little creatures could draw tourists.

"They didn't know monkeys could swim", O'Lenick said.

Macaques were introduced to the Sunshine State's Silver Springs State Park as a tourist attraction nearly 100 years ago.

The rhesus macaque is native to Asia, but were brought to Florida in the 1930s in an attempt to boost tourism during the height of the popularity of Tarzan movies.

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