Wild monkeys infected with herpes B are roaming free in Florida and could spread the disease to people through poop or saliva.
The state now has a plan to keep humans safe from the disease: remove the monkeys. According to the Associated Press, recent alarm about the wild monkey feces was triggered by a new report published in Emerging Infectious Diseases, a journal from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Now, the animals, currently living in the Silver Springs State Park, located an hour outside of Gainesville, might need a new home.
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Scientists studying the monkeys found that some of the animals excrete herpes through saliva and other body fluids, which poses a risk to humans. The researchers who discovered the alarming news contacted the state’s wildlife agency about the potential risk.
Herpes B is rare in humans, and can cause serious brain damage or possibly death, explains the CDC. Symptoms typically appear within one month of exposure to the disease and include flu-like symptoms, like aches, pains, chills and fever. People are infected through animal bites or scratches. The virus was first identified in humans in 1932 and has infected 50 people, according to CDC reports. Of those, 21 died from the disease.
Now, local officials are trying to find a solution to the problem.
“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 the AP story.
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Up to 30 percent of the wild monkeys living in the park may be shedding the virus through poop, fluids and other excrements. Biologist David Civitello of Emory University told the AP that more research needs to be conducted, particularly to find out how much of the virus is present in the monkeys’ excrement. He also wants to understand why no tourist has contracted the virus yet.
“It is interesting to see oral shedding at all,” Civitello said in the story. “It will be important to figure out whether underreporting, low quantities, or low transmissibility would explain why infections in tourists have not been reported.”
The wild monkeys were introduced in the state in the 1930 to increase tourism in the area. A man named Colonel Tooey, who maned a glass-bottom boat, released a few of the animals on an island in the Silver River. But rhesus macaques, it turns out, are excellent swimmers and soon made it to surrounding forests. They are also excellent reproducers, and so soon enough there were a lot more monkeys roaming the region. Local folklore holds that the the interest stemmed from the movie Tarzan, but that origin story has not been verified and no rhesus macaques appear in that film. The population boomed to more than 1,000 and state officials worked to capture the animals as they were deemed a public health hazard.
A public relations representative for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission could not give comment about the state’s plan at the time of this printing.