Feral Florida monkeys with 'potentially fatal' herpes could double population, scientists say
About 200 feral monkeys living in a state park in Central Florida are breeding at such a high rate their population may double in size by 2022, according to experts.
And that's not all -- some of the monkeys carry a dangerous strain of herpes that is common and mild in rhesus macaques but could be deadly for humans, if infected. Last year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a study estimating that about 25 percent of the rhesus macaques in Florida carry macacine herpesvirus 1 (McHV-1), also called monkey B virus or herpes B. It's not the same type of herpes popular among humans (that's HSV-1 and HSV-2), but humans can contact the monkey B virus strain if they are bitten or scratched by an infected monkey or through transmitting other forms of bodily fluids with one of the infected primates. The virus can be fatal to humans, causing a flu-like illness that could progress into neurological symptoms and eventually even death. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, there have been about 50 cases of McHV-1 spreading to humans since 1932, but all of those cases came from captive monkeys, not feral ones like the Florida population. However, 21 of the 50 recorded cases were fatal, and the study said the brain disease associated with McHV-1 in humans is fatal about 70 percent of the time.
It's not legal to feed the animals, University of Florida professor Steve Johnson told Florida ABC affiliate WFTV. Johnson said there could be as many as 400 monkeys living in the feral population in Silver Springs State Park in the next few years, and eventually state officials will have to take action like removing the animals or sterilizing the female rhesus macaques so they cannot reproduce.
People have spotted the monkeys across Central Florida, including one incident in 2015 when students saw a rhesus macaque on the roof of their school and another in 2017 when they chased down people at a park pavilion. The monkeys have lived in the area since the 1930s, when about a dozen rhesus macaques were released on an island in the park as a tourist attraction.