First Death Reported in China After Monkey B Virus Infection

Scientifically known as 'Macacine alphavirus 1', the Monkey B virus specifically infects macaques.
Ameya Paleja
Monkey B Virus is seen in MacaquesTravel Wild/iStock

A 53-year-old veterinarian from Beijing became China's first casualty after a Monkey B virus infection, the Chinese Centre for Disease Control (CCDC) reported earlier this month. Monkey B Virus is a type of Herpes virus that is transmitted horizontally and through direct contact with body fluids. The risk of human-to-human transmission is very low with only one case documented in the 1990s.

Scientifically known as Macacine alphavirus 1, the Monkey B virus (BV) specifically infects macaques. The jump to humans is rare and usually occurs in individuals who are engaged in primate research, animal care at zoos or other animal centers, and veterinarians. However, the prognosis after the infection is poor with a 70-80 percent lethality rate. 

The victim, in this case, was a veterinary surgeon working at an institute engaged in primate breeding and experiment research near the capital city of Beijing. He had dissected two dead monkeys in early March and experienced nausea and vomiting a month later. He also developed some neurological symptoms and some blisters, after which he sought medical help for his condition but died in late May.

Following the development of his symptoms, several samples were taken including nasal and throat swabs, blood, plasma, and cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) for further investigations from the patient and his close contacts who are a doctor, and a nurse. The patient's CSF was subjected to next-generation sequencing  (NGS), which suggested an alphavirus infection.

To investigate further, RT-PCR was performed for four common types of alphaviruses on all the samples collected: varicella-zoster virus (causes chickenpox), monkeypox virus, orthopoxvirus, and BV. Only the CSF sample of the veterinarian tested positive for BV, while all other samples, including those of the close contacts, were negative for all viruses.

Following the death of the veterinarian, the CCDC has identified BV as a potential threat to occupational workers and suggested strengthening surveillance of the virus in laboratory animals and occupational workers. This is the first documented case of a BV death in China. 

In fact, we are not that unfamiliar with this virus. The Washington Post reported last year that The Silver Springs State Park in Florida is home to over 500 macaques that are infected with BV. 

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