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A researcher in China has died from the rare ‘Monkey B’ virus after dissecting 2 primates

Summary List PlacementA veterinary surgeon in Beijing has become China's first documented human death from the Monkey B virus, a rare and potentially fatal disease contracted from primates like macaque monkeys. The Chinese Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a report on Saturday that the man, 53, was...

Japanese macaque snow monkey

Summary List Placement

A veterinary surgeon in Beijing has become China’s first documented human death from the Monkey B virus, a rare and potentially fatal disease contracted from primates like macaque monkeys.

The Chinese Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a report on Saturday that the man, 53, was working in a lab that did experimental research on non-human primate breeding.

The Chinese CDC added that the researcher, who remains unnamed, dissected two dead monkeys on March 4 and 6 of this year. 

After dissecting the monkeys, the man started experiencing symptoms of nausea, vomiting, and fever, before eventually dying on May 27.

Lab tests by the Chinese CDC verified that he contracted the Monkey B virus, which is also known as “herpes B.” 

In its report, the Chinese CDC acknowledged that the Monkey B virus could “pose a potential zoonotic threat to occupational workers” — meaning that it could be transferred from animals to humans. It also noted that more needs to be done to “strengthen surveillance in laboratory macaques and occupational workers in China.” 

While the Monkey B virus might be transmissible from primate to primate, humans have little to fear in the way of person-to-person transmission.

The Washington Post spoke to Nikolaus Osterrieder, dean of the Jockey Club College of Veterinary Medicine and Life Sciences in Hong Kong, who said that unlike COVID, the Monkey B virus faces a “dead end” when it comes to human transmission. 

“It’s not jumping from one human to another human,” Osterrieder said. “SARS-CoV-2, on the other hand, acquired the ability to spread to a new host.”

Monkey B virus infections are primarily caused when infected macaque monkeys bite or scratch people, per the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC also noted that virus infections in people, let alone fatal ones, are uncommon.

Only one instance of an infected person passing the Monkey B virus to another person has ever been recorded, per the CDC.

The last known recorded death from the Monkey B virus in the US was in 1997. Primate researcher Elizabeth Griffin, 22, contracted the disease after an infected rhesus monkey flung waste matter into her eye. Griffin became violently ill and died six weeks later, per The New York Times

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