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Exposure Procedures

Other viral infections

Gastrointestinal disease

Bacterial pneumonia


Zoonotic Diseases of non-human primates

Handling Clinical Samples



Copyright 2008, University of Minnesota Board of Regents.

The University of Minnesota is an equal opportunity educator and employer.

Non-human Primate Biosafety

Zoonotic Disease

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 skin.

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.

Influenza 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.

Gastrointestinal disease

Bacterial agents such as Salmonella, Shigella, 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.

Bacterial pneumonia

Streptococcus 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 sought immediately.


Mycobacterium 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 the facility.

Guidelines for Handling of Non-human Primate Clinical Samples

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.



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 or laundry.
  • Wash hands after removing gloves.


  • Follow proper sharps handling procedures. 
    • 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

Post-exposure procedures 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 housing areas.
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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.