In the 1930s and ‘40s, the captain of a glass-bottom boat released a dozen or so rhesus macaques on an island in Florida’s Silver River, which snakes through Marion county in the center of the state. The idea was that the monkeys, native to Asia, would be a laugh for tourists passing by. But it seems the monkeys may be the ones to get the last laugh.
For one thing, macaques are excellent swimmers and promptly got themselves off the island. In the decades since, their population has exploded to upward of 800 in the surrounding Silver Spring State Park and nearby Ocala National Forest. A new study, out in the February issue of Emerging Infectious Diseases, reveals that the population is also spreading a dangerous type of herpes. The virus—macacine herpesvirus 1 (McHV-1), aka herpes B or monkey B virus—is common and causes mild infections in macaques. But in humans, it can lead to severe, often lethal, illnesses.
The study authors, led by Samantha Wisely of the University of Florida, Gainesville, concluded that the monkeys must be considered a public health concern and “adequate public health measures should be taken.”