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No, South Florida’s Wild Monkeys Will Not Give You Herpes

Researchers are worried that a recent viral story about a potential deadly disease carried by monkeys living near Ocala could have a negative impact on the wild monkeys in South Florida. 

The story got picked up internationally after National Geographic published an article on Nov. 9, about rhesus macaque monkeys living in Silver Spring State Park. The article mentioned that the species can potentially carry Herpes B, which can rarely be fatal if passed to humans.

Florida has never had such a documented case, but that didn’t stop news outlets from Fox News to Newsweek picking the piece up. Perhaps most alarmist of them all was the Orlando Sentinel, which published an article with a headline that asked: "Is a killer monkey invasion in Florida’s future?"

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Absolutely not, and asking such a question is just fear-mongering, says Missy Williams, a researcher who has been studying the Dania Beach wild monkeys for years. (Read more about Williams and the Dania monkeys here.) It’s unlikely someone will be bit by any of the monkeys in Florida, and it’s astronomically unlikely that, if they are, they’d contract Herpes B. Even then, the odds are it wouldn’t be deadly. 

“The news has made it sound like there’s a zombie apocalypse of herpes-infected monkeys running around, and that’s definitely not true,” Williams says.

In South Florida, there’s at least two wild monkey populations, the vervet monkeys of Dania Beach and the squirrel monkeys that live on the property of the Bonnet House Museum & Gardens. Both are known to be docile and have never attacked people. Those species also have never carried Herpes B. 

But that hasn’t stopped friends and relatives from asking Williams and her coworkers about why they’d be working so closely with monkeys that carry deadly herpes. 

Over the years, people have fed the Dania Beach monkeys from the roadside and the parking lots of businesses. Perhaps now that’ll stop, as people might worry about the herpes rumors, and that’s a good thing, because the feedings can cause all kinds of problems for wild monkeys, Williams says. But she also worries that the misplaced fears might lead to a call for a state crackdown on the monkeys, or people might act violently when the monkeys approach. 

“People read these stories and they jump to conclusions that our monkeys are infected,” Williams says. “It makes me worry that people might act out of fear because of misinformation.”

So, if you find yourself face to face with a South Florida wild monkey, take comfort in knowing they will absolutely not give you herpes. 

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