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Explained: What is Monkey B Virus that has claimed its first victim in China

As the world grapples with the devastating Covid-19 pandemic, a new viral infection has been reported in China. The Monkey B Virus (BV) claimed its first victim in the country after a veterinary surgeon contacted the virus while dissecting two animals.

The case, first reported in March of this year, was revealed in the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (China CDC) briefing last week. The surgeon died in May after visiting several hospitals. According to reports, analysis of the cerebrospinal fluid from the patient indicated alphaherpesvirus infection.

Blister fluid, blood, nasal swab, throat swab, and plasma were also collected from the patient for further sequencing. The samples were sent to the National Institute for Viral Disease Control and Prevention (IVDC) of China CDC, where it was identified as that of Monkey BV.

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The Monkey BV is caused by macaques, a genus of Old World monkeys that serve as the natural host. While the virus is transmitted by macaques, chimpanzees and capuchin monkeys can also become infected and die. B virus is also commonly referred to as herpes B, monkey B virus, herpesvirus simiae, and herpesvirus B.

United States’ Centre for Disease Control (CDC) has said that B Virus infections in people were rare and since its first detection in 1932, it has infected just 50 people. Only 21 of them died.

While the Chinese surgeon succumbed to the virus, there have been no reports of human to human transmission so far and contact tracing showed negative results. The 50 documented cases since 1932 got infected after they were bitten or scratched by a monkey, or when tissue or fluids from a monkey got on their broken skin.

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The virus is found in saliva, faeces, urine, brain or spinal cord tissue of macaques, which can survive for hours on surfaces, particularly when moist. While the risk of common people getting infected by the virus is low, it is high among laboratory workers, veterinarians, and others who may be exposed to monkeys or their specimens.


Just like coronavirus, the first symptoms of the Monkey B Virus are flu-like, which include fever and chills, muscle ache, fatigue, headache. In time, the person infected with the virus may develop small blisters in the wound, while other symptoms include shortness of breath, nausea and vomiting, abdominal pain, hiccups.

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As the disease worsens, the virus may lead to swelling of the brain and spinal cord, resulting in neurological and inflammatory symptoms, problems with muscle coordination, brain damage and severe damage to the nervous system eventually leading to death. According to CDC, the symptoms may vary between one day to three weeks.


Currently, there is no vaccine to counter the Monkey B Virus. Timely antiviral medications could help in reducing the risk to life.

Doctors advise that if you are bitten by a monkey

  • Wash and gently scrub the wound with soap, detergent, or iodine for 15 minutes
  • Run water over the wound or area for another 15 to 20 minutes
  • Seek medical attention immediately

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