The wild monkeys in Florida may be cute, but many of them carry a strain of herpes that can be deadly to humans who get scratched or bitten by one, according to WFTV.com. More than a quarter of the rhesus macaques that live in Silver Springs State Park are infected with the herpes B virus, and the total population of monkeys is expected to double from 200 to 400 within the next three years.
Also known as the monkey B virus, herpes B is extremely rare in humans but can turn deadly if infection occurs. In humans, symptoms may include small blisters, fever, flu-like aches, chills, headache, and pain or itching at the site of the wound. Only 50 people have contracted herpes B since the virus was discovered in 1932, but 21 of those were fatal, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Macaques, which are believed to be natural hosts for the virus, experience only mild symptoms or no symptoms at all. Still, the anticipated population boom concerns wildlife experts, especially as the monkeys migrate to other parts of Central Florida. The animals, which are native to Asia, were first brought to the Florida park in the 1930s as part of an attraction that has since shut down. In 2015, a monkey was spotted more than 20 miles south of the park on the roof of an elementary school.
University of Florida professor Steve Johnson tells WFTV the state has a couple of options in terms of how to proceed. It could remove the monkeys from their environment, or remove the females, sterilize them, and release them back into the wild. However, the latter option would likely be expensive and risky for those who handle the monkeys.
“It’s going to be a problem … continual growth of that population is going to occur without intervention,” Johnson says. Until the state reaches a decision, park visitors are advised not to touch or feed the monkeys—which is generally good advice when encountering any wild animal.