Just over two weeks ago howler monkeys (Alouatta guariba) were filmed dying in a closed forest in the municipality of Plácido de Castro, in Acre. Published on the internet, the images were shared with speculation that non-human primates were affected by COVID-19. Contracting rumors, the partial report of the investigation pointed out on Thursday (01) that the animals died of yellow fever.
“The diagnosis of PNHs (non-human primates) was confirmed by the Evandro Chagas Institute for yellow fever. We are waiting for the Ministry of Health to release a technical note for further clarification ”, says Seleucia Nóbrega, a veterinarian at the State Department of Health of Acre (Sesacre), who participated in the team that analyzed the monkeys.
Seleucia and other professionals from Sesacre, from the Agricultural and Forestry Defense Institute (IDAF), from the Municipal Health and Sanitary Surveillance Secretariat (Semsa / Visa) were responsible for the collection and necropsy of the animals. As soon as the possibility of the animals being with COVID-19 began to circulate among the population, the specialists went to the place where the images were taken and found two dead monkeys and the bones of a third.
After guiding the residents of the region, the professionals collected the biological material from the animals at the Department of Zoonoses Control (DCZ). The samples were sent to the Central Laboratory of Public Health of Acre (Lacen), in Rio Branco, and later to the Evandro Chagas Institute, in Belém, Pará.
To prevent the animals from being chased because of the fear related to the possible transmission of the coronavirus, the Brazilian Society of Primatology warned about the lack of evidence to confirm the disease. In a note, also signed by the Brazilian Society of Mastozoology, the Federal University of Acre (Ufac), the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (Fiocruz) and the Institute for Zoo, the institution stressed that the initial suspicion was yellow fever, as the disease is endemic to region and its virus is in the period of greatest circulation.
With the confirmation of the disease, the Ministry of Health will issue a technical note with clarifications, guidelines and measures that will be adopted for the health security of residents. The local population is likely to be vaccinated.
“In general, PNHs with yellow fever have fever, loss of appetite, become apathetic, dehydrated, and some may have hemorrhages in the mouth and intestine (those collected did not have a hemorrhagic condition)”, says Seleucia.
Monkeys are considered sentinels for yellow fever, a serious disease that kills up to 30% of infected people. Because it is serious in humans, and even more serious in monkeys – in howler monkeys the mortality reaches an impressive 90% -, the smallest sign of non-human primate mortality in the forest is indicative that in that place it may be under the incidence of the virus, which it is transmitted by mosquitoes of the genera Haemagogus and Sabethes. For this reason, the collection of animals killed by health surveillance, subsequent reports and notification by health authorities are mandatory.
“The encounter of dead monkeys in a given area, at a given time, is an important warning sign that something is happening differently, and that this different thing could be yellow fever, which can strike humans in a while” , explained veterinarian and entomologist Ricardo Lourenço, head of the Laboratory of Hematozoa Transmitting Mosquitoes at the Oswaldo Cruz Institute (IOC / Fiocruz), in an interview with ((o)) echo in December 2019.
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