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Please Don't Feed Our Monkeys

Discovery of Simian Foamy Virus in Bali Causes Health Officials to Urge Visitors to Avoid Close Contact with Monkeys at Bali's Temples.

(2/28/2006) The discovery of a retrovirus that transfers from monkeys to man among people living near one of Bali's fabled monkey temples has scientists concerned and urging people to avoid "close contact" with Bali's primate population.

Visitors to Bali's estimated 45 temples where semi-tame monkeys congregate are being urged to avoid feeding or involving themselves in any behavior that could potentially provoke the monkeys to bite or scratch.

Simian Foamy Virus

Simian Foamy Virus (SFV) - the retrovirus found in tests conducted on a local farmer living near the Sangeh Temple, is the first confirmed case of SFV in Asia and one among 40 known cases world-wide. The other know SFV infections have been recorded among African bush meat hunters, and North American zoo and lab workers.

No Need for Undue Alarm

SFV has not been linked to any known disease symptoms among the humans infected, appearing to be non-insidious and benign to both humans and monkeys. Nonetheless, scientist are always concerned when any virus can be demonstrated to jump from one species to another, fearing that the virus could someday mutate into a dangerous disease within the human population. Many scientists believe HIV may have evolved as the source of AIDS after making the jump from monkeys to humans and laying dormant for years in the human population before evolving into a public health threat.

With only one SFV case confirmed among 82 people tested near Sanglah Temple, scientists do not believed that the disease is easily transmitted from monkeys to humans. Experts, quoted in the Jakarta Post, suggest people can still safely visit the popular monkey temples on Bali but should avoid close personal contact that could result in a bite or a scratch by a macaque.

The scientist also say people who have been bitten or scratch by monkeys need not become alarmed and do not need to undertake complicated tests to detect SFV.

Although genetically different form the virus in monkeys that later evolved into HIV, scientist are wary of how the virus might evolve over time or interact with other diseases in people infected by tuberculosis, HIV or other virus-based human ailments.

There is no scientific evidence that human beings once infected with SFV can contaminate other humans with the virus.

Visitors to a Bali Monkey Temple should do so as part of a tour lead by a licensed guide and follow all instructions given to them, refraining from feeding the monkeys or posing for photographs while holding the primates.