Over the weekend, Chinese health officials reported the recent death of a veterinarian caused by the Monkey B virus, which he caught from one of the animals he handled.
Monkey B is a species of herpes virus that’s had many different names (including just B virus), but is now formally known as Macacine alphaherpesvirus 1, or McHV-1.
Since its discovery in the 1930s, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there have been at least 50 reported cases of Monkey B in humans, with 21 people dying as a result.
Most of these victims, like the latest case in China, contracted it through close contact with the bodily fluids of acutely infected macaque monkeys (many herpesviruses can lay dormant in the body after the acute infection).
About a month later, he developed nausea and vomiting, along with fever and other, undescribed neurological symptoms. By mid-April, testing of his spinal fluid indicated the possible presence of Monkey B, and further blood and saliva samples were collected from the man and two of his close contacts (a male doctor and female nurse).
Monkey B may be highly fatal, even with antiviral therapy now available, but fortunately, it appears to be very hard to catch.
According to the 1987 CDC report on it, the victim had likely contracted it through applying the same skin cream used to soothe her infected husband’s skin wounds to a spot on her finger that had been scratched hard enough that it had begun to bleed.
The husband and two other victims in the same cluster had all caught it from working in a research facility. That’s not to say the risk is entirely zero to people, even in the U.S.
Though only a small percentage of these monkeys may be actively shedding the virus at any given time, it’s a good example of why it’s important to not get too close to the wildlife around us, no matter how cute or friendly they may seem.