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Rhesus Monkeys Carrying Herpes B Virus in Florida

Sep 14, 2013 04:59 AM EDT

Hundreds of rare Rhesus monkeys in Florida are carrying herpes, Wildlife officials have told the media.

Colonel Tooey, a tour guide, had brought three pairs of Rhesus monkeys to a park near Ocala back in the 1930s. This was after a Tarzan flick made these monkeys popular. The breed of monkeys has since then grown with about 1,000 monkeys currently living in the state, according to The New York Post.

The monkeys were first marooned on a small island near the Silver River, but they learned to swim and escaped, Fox news reported.

In the last decade, about 700 of these monkeys have been caught by wildlife authorities. Tests on the monkeys showed that most of them were carriers of herpes-B virus. Health officials said that the monkeys pose a major public health risk.

B virus infection is caused by Macacine herpesvirus 1, which resembles the herpes simplex virus. The virus is also called Herpes B virus or the monkey B virus as it is commonly found in macaque monkeys, including rhesus macaques and pig-tailed macaques. The virus hardly infects humans but when it does, it is very deadly, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Not everybody is considering the monkeys to be a threat to public health. Captain Tom O'Lenick, who is the current tour operator of Silver River, says that the animals will eventually find a way to move out of a protected space.

"Everybody who comes on the river for a tour wants to see the monkeys. From my point of view, as a naturalist, I think the planet changes naturally and species do move around, whether that is by man or other means," he said to The New York Post.

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