How big a danger is Simian Herpes B to people who do what you do? Do you know anyone who's caught it or died of it? Do you ever have nightmares about it? Do you have to turn away attempts at physical affection from your NHPs because you're worried they'll infect you?
1. How big of a danger is Herpes B to someone in my field?
Huge. Then again, I primarily work with macaques and other old world primates… so the risk is much higher than for someone who focuses on something like lemur behavior.
2. Do I know anyone who has caught or died of Herpes B?
Thankfully no. I do know a number of people who have had exposures, but they all received immediate medical treatment and were given drugs like Acyclovir. Additionally, I don’t know anyone idiotic enough to have a primate for a pet… but I do have a number of friends in Florida who are at risk from the invasive macaque problem down there.
The last confirmed Herpes B death was back in 1997, when Elizabeth Griffin was splashed in the eye at Yerkes NPRC. This tragedy altered the safety procedures for primate centers around the world.
3. Do I have nightmares about Herpes B?
Not really. Nightmares about the my macaques destroying my behavioral database… well that’s a different story. Besides, the heart wrenching terror of noticing a popped glove and having to question everything you did that day is quite enough for me. I don’t need that experience haunting me at night.
Basically, I’m very adamant about proper PPE usage and following safety protocols when dealing with animals. I may be all for mischief and bending the rules outside of work, but if I see you put your fingers into a primate enclosure or walk into an animal area without PPE? Well… you’ll see a side of me that doesn’t come out much since my NROTC days.
4. Do I have to turn away physical affection attempts from my NHPs because of the risk for infection?
YES. Well… sort of.
Most of my macaques are rhesus (Macaca mulatta), and while I love them, they are some of the most aggressive primates in the world. So while I do get some tempting lipsmacking and groom solicitation displays, there are also plenty of open mouth stares and bark threats. I adore my mercurial macaques, but I will never think that they love me or that I am completely safe just because some affiliative coos are thrown my way.
Herpes B or no, you should never assume anything when wild animals are involved. You know what they say; “when you assume, you make and ass out of u and get mauled.”
I’d much rather interact with my NHPs through the protected methods during our various training sessions, by providing them with novel enrichment tasks that promote natural behavior, and by establishing positive social groups so they can properly express those affiliative behaviors with members of their own species. That way both the NHPs and HPs stay out of danger.
**Basic info on the Herpes B Virus below**