11/02/2018 Environment

Killing of monkeys in Rio de Janeiro for fear of yellow fever

The fear of the disease sparked in recent weeks a persecution against the apes, mistakenly considered as vectors of the virus, although they can be a defense for man

Brasilia Zoo, Brazil. Photo taken on 01/23/2018. Monkeys at the Brazilia Zoo. Renato Araujo/EBC via Ulan/Archive LANA (01/23/2018)

Since the beginning of the year, 238 monkeys have been found dead in Rio de Janeiro, compared to 602 for all of last year, the health services of the city indicated, an alarming increase that reflects the fear of yellow fever cases. 69% showed signs of human aggression, most of beatings or poisoning.

The rest perished because of different diseases, which are being investigated in the laboratory where the monkeys that are found dead in the state of Rio arrive to assess the possible presence of viruses such as yellow fever.

After the last outbreak of this disease, which has caused the death of 25 people in this state since the beginning of the year, the population began to search mass vaccines that are scarce and some took it with the monkeys, in a city that is intertwined with the tropical forest.

"People have to understand that the transmitter of yellow fever is the mosquito, the monkey is a victim, and if there are no monkeys in the wild, the mosquitoes will look for the man to feed themselves," explains Fabiana Lucena, head of Jorge Vaitsman Veterinary Medicine Unit, near the center of Rio.

Brasilia Zoo, Brazil. Photo taken on 01/23/2018. Monkeys at the Brazilia Zoo. Renato Araujo/EBC via Ulan/Archive LANA (01/23/2018)

At their work table, the bodies of a dozen small primates that must be subjected to an autopsy are aligned.

"This one presents multiple fractures, in the jaw, in the spine, as well as various fractures in the bones of the skull," he explains as he delicately palpates the animal's head.

The bodies of the monkeys that arrive at the laboratory were found on public roads, sometimes in the middle of the city. The mayor's office enabled a telephone number for the population to indicate the appearance of corpses, so that the health services can remove them.

"When the first [human] deaths related to yellow fever were announced this year, in mid-January, there were days when we received about twenty dead monkeys, of which 18 with signs of aggression," says the veterinarian.

In the laboratory, the monkeys are subjected to an autopsy and, in some cases, fragments of organs are sent to the Osvaldo Cruz Foundation, a reputed center of epidemiology, to identify possible cases of diseases such as yellow fever.

"The monkeys serve as sentinels, they show us where the virus is," insists Fabiana Lucena.

"To start a more effective vaccination campaign, we must identify the areas where the monkeys die of yellow fever, but when the human being starts to kill them, the traceability of the virus becomes more difficult," he warns.

Massacres of these animals were also identified in other regions of Brazil, especially in the neighboring states of San Pablo and Minas Gerais, where the highest number of cases of yellow fever has been recorded.

In San Pablo, a team of biologists working in a city park launched the #Freemacaco campaign on the networks, after having collected two babies of monkeys who had been orphaned after the death of their mother, who was beaten to death.

Nationally, 98 people have died and 353 have contracted yellow fever in the period from July 1 and February 6, according to the latest balance released by the Ministry of Health.

Yellow fever in Brazil occurs in the rural cycle mode and is restricted to forested areas, considered priorities for immunization purposes.

The urban modality occurs when a mosquito transmits the virus from a contaminated person to a healthy one. But there are no records of this cycle in Brazil since 1942 and the authorities deny indications of an urbanization of the disease.

Yellow fever causes fever, chills, fatigue, headaches and muscle pain, usually associated with nausea and vomiting. Severe cases lead to kidney and liver failure, jaundice and hemorrhage.