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Florida monkeys could pass killer herpes to people

Monkey see, monkey don’t.

Feral rhesus macaque monkeys at a Florida state park carry a herpes virus that could be dangerous, possibly deadly, to humans, according to a new study.

As a consequence, the state’s Fish and Wildlife Commission plans to rid the park of the roaming wild primates, which are native to South and Central Asia.

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

Now nearly 30% of the monkeys roaming the park are excreting the herpes B virus through saliva and other body fluids. That makes them a public health threat, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention researchers concluded in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases.

Feral rhesus macaque monkeys at a Florida state park carry a herpes virus dangerous to humans.

Feral rhesus macaque monkeys at a Florida state park carry a herpes virus dangerous to humans.

(John Raoux/AP)

Herpes B is relatively common — and asymptomatic — among macaques and other animals. But it is extremely rare — and potentially deadly — in humans. Since 1932, 50 people have contracted it and 21 of those cases were fatal, according to the CDC.

“When it does occur, it can result in severe brain damage or death if the patient is not treated immediately,” the CDC noted. As such, “this pathogen should be considered a low-incidence, high-consequence risk, and adequate public health measures should be taken.”

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission didn’t go into details on plans. 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. “This can be done in a variety of ways.”

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