COLUMBIA — Bite me once, shame on you. Bite me twice, shame on another Columbia monkey.
A monkey bit a young adult last Friday, July 4, the second monkey to bite someone in Columbia in the past year. Last September, another pet monkey bit an 11-year-old girl and a 7-year-old boy when it got loose in Stephens Park.
This time the victim received a minor bite between the thumb and finger, Columbia Environmental Health Manager Gerry Worley said. The victim then sought treatment at Boone Hospital Center.
Because there is no imminent public health concern, the names of the owner and victim are not being released, State Public Health Veterinarian Howard Pue said. Worley said the victim and owner were familiar with each other.
Monkey bites are quite rare, but they can be dangerous.
“A monkey can inflict some serious injury,” Pue said.
After the hospital treated the victim and reported the bite, the monkey was taken to a veterinarian in the St. Louis area to be tested for Simian B virus, which is commonly found in Macaque species of monkeys, Worley said. Tests include research of the health and history of the monkey, including blood tests. Results should be reported by Monday, Worley said. He said the monkey had to be taken to St. Louis because few veterinarians are willing to treat primates.
Macaque monkeys are naturally prone to the Simian B virus, and by the time they are adults, the monkeys are typically infected, Pue said. The virus is in the monkeys’ saliva and is transmitted by a bite.
Not every bite leads to infection, and human infection with the virus is rare. There are only about 35 documented cases of humans contracting the virus from a bite. However, those 35 cases had a 70 percent fatality rate, Pue said.
It is legal and not difficult to buy monkeys as pets, Pue said. However, the owner needs a health certificate for the monkey, and the pets are expensive, ranging from $2,000 to $5,000 each, he said.
Pue discourages owning monkeys as pets. As juveniles, monkeys are submissive for the first two or three years. However, Pue said, the animals are genetically hard-wired to work their way up the family hierarchy in the wild, meaning the pets grow more dangerous as they age.
“They do so because they are wild animals,” he said.
As monkeys get older, they can rebel viciously with their teeth and claws. Pue said most people don’t know how to take care of a monkey, and it is not necessarily the owner, but a visitor, that the monkey bites.
“They don’t know what they’re getting in for,” he said.