Killer herpes from Florida monkeys could pass to humans, scientists warn

Killer herpes from Florida monkeys could pass to humans, scientists warn

No one keeps a thorough record of encounters between the monkeys and humans at Silver Springs State Park, said Samantha Wiley, a University of Florida researcher who is a co-author of the study.

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.

Herpes B in humans in rare: only 50 cases have been registered worldwide and transmissions of the virus have never knowingly happened in the wild. She said the issue is one her team wants to continue to study on a genomic basis.

"When it occurs, it can bring about serious mind harm or demise if the patient isn't dealt with quickly", a CDC rep says in an announcement. All infected people were infected by contact with monkeys in labs.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission didn't go into details on plans. The monkeys also have roamed far outside the park: Dozens were photographed recently swarming a deer feeder outside a home in Ocala.

Rhesus macaques were first introduced to the Florida park in the 1930s in an effort to increase tourism. The monkeys have since been spotted in other areas outside the park, along the Ocklawaha River.

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. The disease results in severe brain damage or death if not treated immediately, and of the 50 infections, 21 proved to be fatal.

Wiley said the researchers are interested in seeing the virulency of the pathogens. Macaques have released to the Sunshine State's Silver Springs State Park as a tourist attraction almost 100 decades back. Humans feeding the monkeys is a common activity along the Silver River. "Human visitors to the park are most likely to be exposed", wrote the study's authors, "through contact with saliva from macaque bites and scratches or from contact with virus shed through urine and feces". A rhesus monkey on the loose in Pinellas County for more than two years was caught in October 2012.

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.

Wildlife officials are now pushing for the removal of the monkeys roaming in Florida in the interest of public health and safety.

"We don't have any silver bullet; that's the nature of science", Wisely said.

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