Intruder who broke into monkey enclosure in Tasmania at risk of ‘potentially fatal’ herpes

·2-min read
<span>Photograph: David Levene/The Guardian</span>
Photograph: David Levene/The Guardian

Authorities are urging an intruder who broke into a monkey enclosure in Tasmania to seek medical attention as they may have been exposed to a “potentially fatal” herpes virus.

The enclosure, which houses macaque monkeys, was broken into on Tuesday night with the intruder causing damage to the electric fence before stealing coins from a surrounding moat.

The city of Launceston council released a statement which said the break-in could have exposed the intruder to herpes B virus, which is carried by most macaques around the world.

The council is urging the intruder to seek medical attention as soon as possible, saying the virus could be “potentially fatal to humans”.

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“The virus can be asymptomatically shed by the monkeys through bodily fluids and ‘fomites’ – that is, any material that has come into contact with the virus, which includes the water in the enclosure.

“The virus is potentially fatal to humans, with more than 30 known deaths recorded worldwide, with only one confirmed case of human-to-human transmission.”

Launceston mayor, Albert van Zetten, said that the intruder had “obviously” intended to steal the coins, adding that if the disease was in the water, it could be transferred to humans.

“We’re really encouraging that person to seek medical attention as a matter of urgency, and they need to watch out for symptoms, which include blistering, pain, numbness and flu-like symptoms as well,” Van Zetten said.

“It’s strange, there’s no doubt about that. Perhaps someone saw some money and thought, ‘oh well, here’s a chance, I might be able to get some’.”

Van Zetten said the virus was not considered a risk to the monkeys, who exhibit symptoms similar to that of cold sores in humans. He said a break-in had never happened before.

“You can never stop some people from trying to break in if they really want to,” he said. “But … we will continue to monitor and see if there’s anything we can do that would make sure that people don’t do this.”

The council said Tasmania police and the Tasmanian Department of Health had been advised of the break-in.

“We ask that anyone with information regarding the break-in contact Tasmania police immediately,” Van Zetten said. “But importantly, council urges the intruder to seek medical attention as a matter of some urgency.”

The enclosure was established as part of a sister-city relationship with Ikeda in Japan, where the monkeys came from.