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Herpes B Virus

What is herpes B virus?

Herpes B virus is carried by the majority of adult macaque monkeys, including rhesus macaques, pig-tailed macaques, and cynomolgus monkeys (also known as crab-eating or long-tailed macaques). Infections in humans are extremely rare, but can result in severe neurologic disease or fatal swelling of the brain and spinal cord.

How is herpes B virus spread?

Herpes B virus infections in humans are rare and usually occur after bites or scratches from macaque monkeys. The virus can also spread through the saliva, feces, urine, or nervous tissue of an infected monkey.

Other possible routes of transmission include a needlestick from a contaminated syringe or a scratch or cut from a contaminated cage or other sharp surface. The virus can survive for hours on the surfaces of objects.

Can I contract herpes B from a human?

Only one case of human-to-human transmission of the herpes B virus has ever been documented. People who have the herpes B virus most often acquired it directly or indirectly from a macaque monkey.

Who is at risk for herpes B virus?

People with the greatest risk of developing herpes B include veterinarians, laboratory workers, and those who are in close contact with macaque monkeys or monkey cell cultures. For this reason, macaque monkeys should not be kept as pets. Macaques housed in primate facilities will usually be carriers of the herpes B virus by the time they reach adulthood.

What are the symptoms of herpes B virus?

In humans, symptoms will develop within 1 month of exposure to the virus, although symptoms can also be seen in as little as 3 to 7 days. Progression of the disease may depend upon the site of infection and amount of infectious particles transmitted.
Symptoms vary, but may include

  • Blisters near the site of infection
  • Pain, numbness, and itching near the wound
  • Flu-like aches and pains
  • Fever and chills
  • Headaches lasting more than 24 hours
  • Fatigue
  • Muscular incoordination
  • Shortness of breath

Respiratory distress and death can occur 1 day to 3 weeks after symptoms begin.

What is the treatment?

Though rare, herpes B infections in humans are often fatal unless treated early. Around 70% of untreated patients will die from the infection.

You should begin first aid immediately if you have been bitten or scratched by a monkey that can carry herpes B virus. Be sure to clean the exposed area thoroughly with soap and water, and then rinse the area under running water for 15-20 minutes.

See your health care provider immediately.

Antiviral medications are available to treat herpes B but there is no vaccine available.

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