Due to the close genetic relationship between nonhuman primates and humans, disease-causing organisms are easily exchanged between them. Pathogens can be passed from nonhuman primates through bites, scratches, handling animals or their tissues, airborne transmission of aerosols and droplets, ingestion and biting insects. Often, the nonhuman primate carries and transmits disease without any visible signs.
Persons in contact with these animals must always be aware of the potential risks involved. This is especially true when animals are under stress, such as those that have been recently shipped or introduced into a new situation, or have developed a recent illness.
As with many communicable diseases, immunocompromised persons are at greatest risk for infection or serious consequences from such infections.
What nonhuman primate-related diseases are of concern in Ohio?
Amebiasis is a gastrointestinal disease caused by infection by a protozoan parasite, Entamoeba histolytica. It is primarily a human parasite, but nonhuman primates can also become infected.
Infection in people is usually asymptomatic, although some individuals may develop severe diarrhea and dehydration. Cysts are shed in the feces of infected individuals.
People commonly become infected by eating food that has been contaminated by cysts from an infected person. Good personal and food hygiene practices are important for preventing infection.
Animal bites: nonhuman primates
Nonhuman primate bites are not common in Ohio. These bites carry the risk of transmitting rabies and herpes B viruses and can also result in serious wound infections.
If you have been bitten by a nonhuman primate, consult with your healthcare provider regarding the need for antimicrobial treatment, and report the bite to your local health department.
Nonhuman primates, particularly chimpanzees, can be infected with hepatitis A and hepatitis B viruses. Infection occurs through close contact nonhuman primates or their environment.
Herpes B virus
Herpes B virus, also known as simian B virus, is carried by up to 90 percent of adult macaque monkeys. Most infected macaques are asymptomatic, but some may have local oral lesions.
People get infected through a bite or scratch. Infected people develop encephalitis (inflammation of the brain), and up to 70 percent of infected people die.
If you have been bitten or scratched by a macaque, consult with your healthcare provider regarding the need for antiviral prophylaxis.
Nonhuman primate rabies is rarely reported in the United States and, with one exception, has always occurred in animals that were recently imported from rabies-endemic areas. The one exception occurred after a dog bit a pet monkey in 1911 during a dog rabies epidemic in Florida.
All nonhuman primate bites should still be treated as potential rabies exposure and be reported to your healthcare provider and your local health department. No rabies vaccine is currently licensed for use in nonhuman primates.
Shigellosis is a gastrointestinal disease of people caused by Shigella species bacteria. People usually become infected through contact with other people who are sick or carriers. However, all species of nonhuman primates can also become infected when exposed to infected people.
Infection causes fever and diarrhea in both people and nonhuman primates, although inapparent infections are also common.
Good personal and food hygiene practices are important for preventing infection.
All species of nonhuman primates are susceptible to infection with Mycobacterium species bacteria that cause tuberculosis in people. Nonhuman primates with active tuberculosis infection can transmit the disease to people and other nonhuman primates.
Viral hemorrhagic fever
Viral hemorrhagic fevers are a diverse group of viruses that includes Marburg and Ebola viruses. These viruses have multiple different reservoirs in the wild, including African Green monkeys and chimpanzees.
People can become infected through direct contact with animals or their environment, aerosol or by consuming meat from infected animals. Symptoms in people vary from mild fever to severe hemorrhagic disease progressing to shock and death.