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Mystery Monkey tests positive for herpes B

Published Nov. 3, 2012

Cornelius, formerly known as the Mystery Monkey of Tampa Bay, has tested positive for the herpes B virus.

Wildlife officials on Thursday received test results from blood that was drawn last week when the wild rhesus macaque was captured in a neighborhood near Lake Maggiore.

The results show Cornelius is healthy, but carries herpes B, a common virus in rhesus macaques, said veterinarian Don Woodman, who has been examining the animal since his capture.

The virus is not life-threatening for the monkey, but may cause "relatively mild lesions," Woodman said.

"It doesn't really change anything for Cornelius," Woodman said. "I don't see that this creates a need to euthanize him."

The virus is of greater concern to humans, who can contract it by getting bitten or scratched by a monkey. Symptoms can take up to two weeks to emerge and include fever, headache and blisters near the wound.

Humans who contract the virus can develop encephalitis, a mostly fatal illness that causes swelling of the brain. Of the 22 herpes B cases in recorded history, 15 people have died from encephalitis, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Before his capture last week, the monkey bit Elizabeth Fowler, 60, outside her home.

As a precaution, she was treated for rabies and herpes. A blood test found no evidence of disease.

After she learned of the monkey's diagnosis, she consulted with a doctor Friday and decided to get more tests just to be sure, said Fowler's daughter, Shannon.

"She's been fine," said Shannon Fowler. "She's been taking care of herself."

Dr. John Sinnott, director of infectious diseases at the University of South Florida and Tampa General Hospital, said contracting herpes B from a monkey is "a rare event."

"If he were in my back yard," he said, "I wouldn't be losing any sleep over it."

The virus, however, may make it more challenging for wildlife officials to find Cornelius a good home because he could infect others of his kind.

At least one facility, Dade City's Wild Things, is interested in adopting Cornelius after his 30-day quarantine. News that he has the virus doesn't change that, said Wild Things director Kathy Stearns.

The 22-acre facility is home to more than 200 animals, including jaguars, zebras and several monkeys.

"At this point, I fear that no one is going to want him now," Stearns said.

Stearns said the facility will find a female macaque for Cornelius if he comes to live there.

Wildlife officials have not yet decided if Cornelius should be moved to the Dade City facility, said Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission spokesman Baryl Martin.

Cornelius was captured Oct. 24 with two tranquilizer darts. He was taken to wildlife rescuer Vernon Yates's facility for a 30-day quarantine.

Only one more exam, which will test the monkey for tuberculosis, is pending, Woodman said.

"Vernon's and my concern from the very beginning has been to save this animal's life," Woodman said.

Laura C. Morel can be reached at (727)893-8713, or lmorel@tampabay.com.

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