The World Health Organization has confirmed that the Zika virus is an international public health emergency. Since 2015, this mosquito-transmitted virus has spread to Mexico, Central America and South America, and the U.S. According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, 25 cases of the Zika virus have been confirmed in the state. However, recent research suggests that humans aren’t the only ones who need protection from the virus. In Alice, Texas, it appears monkeys may need protection too.
Covance, a research organization providing animal testing and drug development services, imports thousands of monkeys from countries on high alert for Zika. The animals are kept in tiny, humid, outdoor facilities, leaving them susceptible to infected mosquito bites, animal activists state. The facility is located in Hendry County — adjacent to Lee and Broward counties, where Zika cases have already been confirmed. Because of the state’s warm humid climate, grasslands, marshes, and no dry season, it serves as ideal mosquito breeding habitat, worrying activists that the monkeys, employees, and the lab’s neighbors could easily harbor the virus.
Monkeys and the Zika Virus
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), a shareholder of Covance’s parent company, LabCorp, filed a shareholder resolution to address the public health risk posed by imported monkeys housed in tiny, humid outdoor enclosures. More than 5,000 cynomolgus and 5,000 rhesus macaques live at the Covance facilities, but all it takes is one single bite of an infected mosquito to spread the Zika virus.
“The virus can spread from the monkeys, through mosquitoes, to people far from the facility — presenting a very real risk to people in Texas, especially women,” said Dr. Jan Hajek, clinical assistant professor in the Division of Infectious Diseases at the University of British Columbia.
The virus is particularly dangerous to pregnant women. Zika virus infections of pregnant women have a link with newborn microcephaly, an unusually small head, typically accompanied by brain damage. Studies show it can also cause Guillian-barre syndrome, a rare condition which causes paralysis.
What’s Being Done?
PETA is calling for the closure of the testing facility. However, Benjamin Haynes, a spokesman for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says they’re already doing everything they can to ensure its animals and people are fully protected.
“Primates imported into the United States undergo a mandatory 31-day quarantine after importation,” said Haynes. “Facilities with outdoor housing should work with state and local authorities to develop a mosquito surveillance and management program at the facility to prevent the possible spread of Zika virus.”
Zika Continues to Spread
Texas, however, isn’t the only state to worry about. Florida has also been raising concerns because of the monkey facilities there as investigative footage from inside one such place revealed improper drainage and standing water, and an aerial image of the facility reveals what appears to be a large lagoon that likely contains wet manure as well as ditches filled with water — all conditions ripe for mosquito breeding and the infection of large populations of captive monkeys.
A monkey attempts to sip a drink from a leaking faucet.
In addition to these facilities posing serious health concerns, investigations prove that they are rife with animal welfare violations and abuses. In footage from the facility, workers are seen chasing after and grabbing terrified monkeys by their sensitive tails. They aggressively swung nets at them, yanked them off the fences that they desperately clung to, and hurled them into nets. Some monkeys with painful injuries, including exposed bones, were left to suffer for days, according to investigators.
Monkeys cower in fear at the Primate Products, Inc., the Florida primate warehouses that sells monkeys destined for experiments.
“Zika cases have already been confirmed in counties bordering Hendry County and its squalid monkey prisons,” said Justin Goodman, PETA Director of Laboratory Investigations. “PETA is calling on Florida residents to join us in calling for the closure of these despicable facilities, which are as dangerous to human health as they are cruel to monkeys.”
How to Help?
Activists are now calling for the state to shut down these monkey importation and breeding facilities, that in addition to posing health hazards, are also rife with animal welfare violations and abuse. To take a stand, you can add your name to a petition, calling for the closure of Primate Products, inc in Florida and other facilities.
While medical labs continue to utilize animal testing, dozens of far more effective research procedures that do not involve animals or the cruelty do exist. Some of these include in vitro testing, computer modeling, and even life-life human-patient simulators. Check out these five organizations working to end against animal testing here.