Diseases of non-human primates
Copyright 2008, University of Minnesota Board of Regents.
The University of Minnesota is an equal opportunity educator
Non-human primates can carry
a variety of zoonotic diseases as detailed below. Zoonoses are diseases
that can be transmitted between species. It is important to note
that in many cases the transmission can go in both directions. Therefore,
the use of protective clothing not only protects you, but also the animals.
While prevention of disease is important, knowing how to handle exposures
is also important. These procedures are listed under individual diseases.
A further safety tool is a medical alert card that can be carried in your
wallet indicating to health care workers that you work with non-human primates.
These cards are available from RAR
or you can develop one of your own if you desire.
Cercopithecine Herpes Virus I
Most species of macaque monkeys
(rhesus, cynomolgus) can carry a virus known as B virus, Herpesvirus
simiae or Cercopithecine Herpes Virus I. It is very similar to human herpes
virus which causes cold sores in humans. In the monkey, the virus causes
simple cold sores. In the monkey, the virus usually does not cause
disease or symptoms. Infection with B virus is extremely rare in humans; however, when it does occur, the infection can result in severe neurologic impairment or fatal encephalomyelitis if the patient is not treated soon after exposure. Immediate diagnosis
and treatment with antiviral drugs has saved lives. The procedure outlined
below is adapted from recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and has been shown to reduce the risk of contracting Herpes B in the event
of a bite or other wound, or an exposure to mucous membranes or broken
Since B virus has a high
prevalence in conventional primate colonies, and animals can carry the
disease without showing symptoms, it is best to assume that all primates
are infected. Body fluids such as saliva and urine present the highest
risk to workers. Caretakers are at special risk, since routine care
and cage washing involves frequent contact with sharp edges on contaminated
cages and production of aerosols from spraying animal waste. In laboratories,
activities such as pipetting, opening containers and centrifuging urine,
blood or mucosal swabs can present risk of contamination. Use of
protective clothing, eye protection and respiratory protection are essential.
Consistent caution and respect for the monkey is always a good idea.
In addition, if you ever spot what looks like a cold sore on a monkey,
be sure to contact RAR before handling the animal or its cage.
Procedures to Follow in Case of Contact with Body Fluid from a Non-human Primate (Macaque (rhesus or cynomologus) species only)
Information for Healthcare Providers: Care of Non-human Primate Bites,
Scratches or Splashes onto Mucous Membranes
(Macaque (rhesus or cynomologus) species only)
Other Viral Infections
Non-human primates can develop measles, usually following exposure to infected humans. Workers with measles should not work
with non-human primates until they have recovered. Clinical signs
in the animals are similar to those in humans, including a red rash on
the face and hands. Transmission is usually by direct contact.
virus can be transmitted between humans and non-human primates. Signs
of disease for both humans and animals include fever and upper respiratory
signs such as coughing, sneezing and nasoocular secretions. The disease
is potentially fatal in immunocompromised individuals. Transmission
is by aerosol. Prevention is achieved through the use of protective
clothing and respiratory protection.
Several pox viruses,
including monkeypox and Yaba virus can cause painful nodular lesions in
the skin of humans and non-human primates. Transmission is by direct
contact, although infected tissues could present a risk to laboratory workers.
Prevention of disease is through use of protective clothing.
Non-human primates may be
carriers of filoviruses such as Ebola.
These viruses cause an acute hemorrhagic fever in humans and non-human primates
that is often fatal. Flood and body fluids are potential sources
of the virus. Use of protective clothing and eyewear is preventative.
Animals are screened upon entry into the country for filoviruses.
Bacterial agents such as Salmonella,
and intestinal parasites such as Giardia,
Entamoeba histolytica and
Balantidium colican be carried by many species of non-human primates.
Feces are the primary source of infections. Gloves, a laboratory
coat and a respiratory mask should be worn when handling fecal samples
or sanitizing caging. Symptoms of these diseases include diarrhea
with or without blood, vomiting, and fever in both humans and non-human
primates. Medical attention should be sought immediately.
pneumonia can cause an acute bacterial pneumonia in humans and
non-human primates. Infected animals and lung or sputum samples can
present a risk to workers. Sudden onset of fever, malaise and coughing
are symptoms of bacterial pneumonia. Medical attention should be
tuberculosis causes a rapidly fatal pneumonia in most Old World
primate species, and chronic pneumonia in humans. Typically, infected
humans present a much greater risk to the animals than animals do to humans.
It would be unusual for the disease to be transmitted to humans, unless
the animal is undergoing surgery or pathologic examination. Infected
tissue samples can also present a risk to laboratory workers. Prevention
of disease includes routine use of respiratory protection and protective
clothing when working with tissues or when coming into close proximity
to animals. Animals and human handlers are screened every 6 months
for disease. Animals are also quarantined and screened on entry into
Guidelines for Handling of Non-human Primate Clinical
Animal handlers are not the
only personnel who are at risk of zoonotic diseases from non-human primates.
Some diseases may be transmitted through body fluids and tissues.
Care should be taken by anyone handling these samples to prevent potential
exposure to zoonotic pathogens. These guidelines are adapted from
the universal precautions for handling human samples. Complete details
of the universal precautions can be found in the CDC publication Biosafety
in Microbiological and Biomedical Laboratories.
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All personnel in
contact with clinical samples must be trained
in the nature of the hazards presented by non-human primate samples, and
in the methods for preventing exposure. This training is available
through RAR (call 624-9100). Bloodborne pathogen training is also
available through the Department of Environmental Health and Safety (call
626-2330). The procedures presented in this training are identical
to those presented by RAR, however, the risks are pertinent to human samples.
Refer to the above information on risks from non-human primate samples.
Personal Protective Equipment and Clothing
Protective clothing should be
worn when handling clinical samples.
Disposable gloves and long-sleeved
protective clothing should be worn at all times
If there is the potential for
splashing (e.g. opening sample containers, pipetting, vortexing) eye and
respiratory protection should be used. This should include a respiratory
mask with a moisture barrier and a splash guard, safety glasses with side
panels, or or a face shield.
Protective clothing should be
replaced if it is contaminated.
Protective clothing should be
removed on leaving the work area and placed in a biohazard disposal container
Wash hands after removing gloves.
Follow proper sharps handling
Don't recap needles, if possible.
If it is necessary to recap, use a device or a one-handed technique.
Use a piece of cardboard or
other device to pick up broken glass or loose sharps. This should
be discarded or decontaminated following use.
Dispose of sharps in a puncture-proof
container labeled "Biohazard".
If there is a spill, decontaminate
the spilled material with 10% bleach or a similar disinfectant.
Use a device, not your mouth
to pipette samples.
Samples should be kept in unbreakable,
leak-proof containers. Place the primary container in a secondary
container when transporting samples or when the primary container has become
contaminated on the outside.
Decontaminate work surfaces
after use using an appropriate disinfectant, such as 1% bleach.
Areas where samples are stored
should be labeled with a red or orange biohazard sign.
If samples are to be mailed
or transferred to another location, the container should labeled as a biohazard
with a red or orange label. Any special shipping procedures required
by law or by the carrier for biohazard samples should be followed.
Further details on laboratory
procedures are found in the CDC publication Biosafety in Microbiological
and Biomedical Laboratories.
Exposure to body fluids or tissues
should be followed if there is a needle stick, or exposure of body fluids
or fresh tissues to broken skin or a mucous membrane. Refer to the
attached page or, the "Non-human Primate Bite Kit" found in non-human primate
The information contained in this site is intended as
a reference for University of Minnesota investigators, and animal husbandry
and veterinary staff. Drug information and dosages are derived from a variety
of sources and do not necessarily guarantee safety or efficacy. Information
obtained through this site should not be relied upon as professional veterinary
advice. Any medications administered or procedures performed on animals
should only be performed by or under order of a qualified, licensed veterinarian.