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Pennsylvania Woman Fears Infection After Close Contact With Escaped Monkey

Pennsylvania woman Michele Fallon thought she was being a good Samaritan when she stopped to help a truck that had crashed on a Pennsylvania roadway at the time that she thought was loaded with cats.

As we reported on these pages last month, the truck was not carrying cats but 100 monkeys bound for a lab – a few of which escaped from the crash scene but have since been recovered.

It all started when a monkey was spotted climbing a tree along Pennsylvania highway near Danville, where Route 54 meets Interstate 80 about 130 miles northeast of Philadelphia on the chilly night of Jan. 21.

The monkeys were in crates inside an enclosed trailer when Pennsylvania State Police say the truck driver turned in front of an oncoming dump truck.

“The next thing I know, the dump truck hits the trailer, and it spins around, and both of them crashed down into the trees,” Michele Fallon told local news WBRE/WYOU.

Fallon stopped and said a bystander said that there were cats were inside those crates.

“They had this like a green cloth over, so I peel it back, and I go to stick my finger in there to try to pet it, and it pops its head up, and I’m like, ‘Oh, it’s a monkey!’ So I was like, I’m shocked, I walk over to the guy, and I’m like, ‘They’re not cats, they’re monkeys.’ He goes, ‘They’re what?’ I’m like, ‘They’re monkeys!'” explained Fallon.

Not just any monkeys – there were 100 cynomolgus macaque monkeys from Africa headed to a lab in Missouri for testing. At one point, it was thought four monkeys had escaped, but it was actually three. The monkeys were all recovered, and all were euthanized though it was never disclosed why.

As for Fallon, when she stuck her hand into one of the crates, one of the primates hissed at her, and that is where her weeks-long nightmare of fear and anxiety began. 

At the time of the crash, Fallon told WBRE/WYOU the CDC contacted her, saying that since the monkeys were not quarantined and monitored, she needs to take precautions because of the close contact she had with one of them in a crate.

Since then, Fallon says she has been sick and exhibiting signs of some kind of infection! Specifically, Fallon said she had developed a severe cough and the symptoms of pink eye.

“I thought I was just doing the right thing by helping — I had no idea it would turn out this way,” she told a Pennsylvania news outlet.

In the days after her contact with the monkey, Fallon received a rabies shot, was put on “various antiviral medications,” and was told to quarantine for 31 days.

“I was close to the monkeys, I touched the crates, I walked through their feces, so I was very close. So I called (a helpline) to inquire, you know, was I safe?” she said. “Because the monkey did hiss at me, and there were feces around, and I did have an open cut, they just want to be precautious.”

The monkeys had not been quarantined before being transported. Monkeys can be carriers of monkey herpesvirus B, a rare disease that can be deadly.

“People typically get infected with B virus if they are bitten or scratched by an infected macaque monkey, or have contact with the monkey’s eyes, nose, or mouth,” according to the CDC.

Fallon said when she decided to stop and help the driver, he didn’t warn her about the dozens of monkeys he was transporting. “He just asked if his trailer was okay. He never said, ‘If you do come near a crate, do not touch it,’ if he would have told me that, I would have been more careful,” Fallon recalled.

Animal rights organization People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) released a statement following the truck collision. They called for the “closure of the federally funded national primate research centers (sic).”

“Monkeys can carry lethal pathogens that spread through their saliva, blood, feces, and urine,” they said. “Photos taken at the site of the Pennsylvania monkey crash reveal a worrying lack of biosecurity—people dragging boxes barehanded, motorists sticking their faces into crates, and of course, the escaped, likely terrified and disoriented monkeys who were thrown out into freezing cold weather….”

No one was hurt in the crash, and the escaped monkeys were recovered but had that not been the case and had one or more of them been infected with a virus or serious pathogen, this situation could have been a lot worse and should be wake up call to lawmakers about better regulating the transportation of lab animals. Anyone remember the movie Outbreak?