Primate Disease Propaganda - An Emerging Threat?

By Amy Rausch, March 2008

  The threat of zoonosis is being used regularly to negate the benefits and right of pet ownership or private ownership of any kind of primates. Any factual information can be construed as sound reasoning against ownership- but it can also show sound evidence of very minimal risk, less than many commonly accepted everyday occurrences. Many animal rights organizations against private ownership have taken only certain excerpts from the CDC (Center for Disease Control) and used these and other sources as the sole argument while disregarding all surrounding factual information. The CDC does not support the ownership of macaques but their purpose and reason for existence should be considered- if they supported it and even one case of transmission of herpes B occurred in the private sector, would the agency be partially accountable?


  Herpes B, considered prevalent in macaques according to some statistics quoted, isn't as threatening as stated when all information is viewed in it's entirety. Macaques are indigenous to many countries including Japan and Indonesia. The island of Mauritius had macaques introduced 400 years ago. "Reports show that no B virus exists in a population of long-tailed macaques introduced 400 years ago on the island of Mauritius. In all populations studied, the likelihood of infection increases dramatically with age." (Source: Emedicine) The interaction of humans with wild populations are quite common and in some areas macaques are even considered a nuisance due to their close proximity and interaction with humans.

  Macaques are not born already harboring the herpes B infection and evidence shows that he practice of removing young macaques from their mothers most likely plays an important roll in the lack of herpes B infections being contracted by owners in the United States since importation for the pet trade was stopped in 1975. Adapted from NIH Office of Animal Care and Use, NIH intramural research program, 1999 - "Thousands of persons have handled macaques since human infection with B-Virus infection was first reported over 50 years ago, yet only about 22 cases of human infection have been described." (Source: Division of Comparative Medicine)

  According to evidence cited by the CDC - " (4). B-virus infection is transmitted among free-ranging or group housed animals, primarily through sexual activity and bites. In captivity, as well as in the wild, mature macaques are more likely than immature animals to have been infected with, and shed, the virus." (Source: CDC)

This fact alone would deem the private sector to a safer environment concerning the likelihood of contracting herpes B. There are no cases reported of transmission of herpes B through private ownership of macaques. Understanding some of the details involving transmission of herpes B and the testing involved will make this more understandable.
Testing for herpes B has more than a single avenue and evaluation. Testing of very young macaques is not recommended due to the presence of maternal antibodies which is not an indication of infection. "Young monkeys can be infected by adult carriers as soon as they lose maternal antibody." (Source: University of Connecticut Health Center)

Once this is understood a look at the various testing and definitions involved provide clearer understanding:

seropositive - : having or being a positive serum reaction especially in a test for the presence of an antibody
:being or having a positive test result for the presence of a specific antibody in the serum of the blood

antibody: any of a large number of proteins of high molecular weight that are produced normally by specialized B cells after stimulation by an antigen and act specifically against the antigen in an immune response

ELISA - Definition: A rapid test where an antibody or antigen is linked to an enzyme as a means of detecting a match between the antibody and antigen.
This versatile test is widely used in the medical laboratory. It allows your health care provider to: Test your blood with an antigen (e.g., virus or bacteria) to see if your immune system recognizes it as something it has seen before, or
Test your blood with an antibody to see if a particular substance like a hormone (an antigen) is present in your system. (Source: Medhelp)

Western Blot: The western blot (alternately, immunoblot) is a method to detect a specific protein in a given sample of tissue homogenate or extract. It uses gel electrophoresis to separate native or denatured proteins by the length of the polypeptide (denaturing conditions) or by the 3-D structure of the protein (native/ non-denaturing conditions). The proteins are then transferred to a membrane (typically nitrocellulose or PVDF), where they are probed (detected) using antibodies specific to the target protein. (Source: Wikipedia)

As seen above: "Young monkeys can be infected by adult carriers as soon as they lose maternal antibody" (Source: University of Connecticut Health Center), which would further confirm the unreliable and unnecessary testing of very young macaques and exclude incident of infection. Further consideration of false- positive results would lessen the real risk of possibility of exposure and transmission more. Of the naturally occurring populations and those raised in colonies for research purposes, the statistics show an extremely small percent of any group shedding the virus at any given time. "only a small percentage (ie, 0-2%) shed the virus at any given time." (Source: Emedicine)

These odds are only applicable if the macaque is herpes B positive so it is easily seen why even wild populations or colonies raised for medical research, with a high percentage of herpes B positive individuals, living in close proximity to humans do not present the claimed threat. Removing opportunities for transmission from other macaques, as instances of private ownership would provide, would lessen the risk of transmission to humans to a very negligible risk if any at all.

Amy Rausch has been a lifelong owner of domestic animals, reptiles, native animals and lived daily with macaques for the past twelve years. She can be reached at  or 419-420-2256


Photo  and Article Copyright Amy Rausch