Monkeys With Deadly Herpes Virus Populate Florida

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Experts state that there is a community of rhesus macaques, otherwise known as feral monkeys that have been infected with a herpes virus, which can be deadly to humans, residing in Silver Springs State Park.

According to WFTV, in the 1930s, 200 rhesus macaque monkeys were part of an attraction in a theme park located in Central Florida. The park has since been closed.

The monkeys were originally enclosed on an island that was in the park. However, after having lived there for 80 years, the monkeys migrated and increased throughout the central part of Florida.

Experts have stated that by 2022 the population of rhesus macaque may have doubled.

University of Florida Wildlife ecologist and monkey expert, Steve Johnson, told WFTV that by 2022 that there is no question the monkey population will grow if there is no intervention to stop it from happening.

During his research, Johnson discovered that in the mid-1980s there were 400 rhesus macaque monkeys. The monkeys continued to increase, as there was no way to stop them from breeding.

1000 monkeys were taken from the state park between the years of 1984 through 2012. They were sold to medical research companies in order to reduce the monkey population.

Johnson states that the removal and trap program was stopped in 2012 due to negative backlash from the community and animal rights groups. Consequently, the inability  to reduce their breeding caused the monkey population soared to soar in Silver Spring Florida

Last February, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) found that 25 percent of the rhesus macaque monkeys carried the Macacine Herpesvirus 1 (McHV-1). The CDC also stated that this virus can be transmitted by the rhesus macaque to humans. If transmitted to a human it could be deadly.

When a monkey is infected with herpes they have the same symptoms as a human. The virus can remain dormant a period of time. When the immune system is weak, due to illness or stress, the virus can emerge. In human the outbreaks of the herpes virus usually takes place around the genitals or mouth.

The researchers studied blood and saliva samples from 317 monkeys. They found that 25 percent of the monkey population carried the virus and between 4 to 14 percent of the infected rhesus macaque were shedding the virus actively during the 2015 mating season.

The infection doesn’t produce clinical illness in macaques other than an occasional outbreak. If a human is infected with the monkey version of herpes (McHV-1), they may develop flu-like symptoms which may turn into neurological issues such as paralysis and double vision. If this happens, the person usually dies.

Researchers have 50 cases of documented McHV-1 that has spread to humans. All of the reported cases came from a monkey that was in captivity, and not in the wild. Researchers state that since there are so many monkeys in Central Florida, they feel the virus can transfer from the wild monkeys to humans unless humans stay away from them.

The CDC reported that they discovered the herpes virus, carried by the rhesus macaque, can be transmitted through urine, feces, and saliva. As the monkey population increases, it becomes easier for a human to get in contact with tainted bodily fluids.

After the CDC report was released, Florida passed a law stating that it is illegal to feed the monkeys in the hopes of preventing monkeys from biting and spreading the virus. However, if nothing is done to prevent the population of macaque’s from breeding or keeping the population lowered, there will be an increased risk of the herpes virus spreading to humans.

Written by Barbara Sobel


WFTV: Wild monkeys with herpes in Central Florida: Population on the verge of doubling
Ars Technica: Wild monkeys with killer herpes are breeding like crazy in Florida
Motherboard: The risk that humans may contract the deadly herpes virus is low, but the number of monkeys with the virus is set to explode, increasing risk of contact.

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