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Second monkey researcher exposed to virus

Yerkes graphic

First Yerkes Primate Center employee died

December 31, 1997
Web posted at: 3:34 p.m. EST (2034 GMT)

ATLANTA (CNN) -- An employee at the Yerkes Regional Primate Research Center left a hospital Wednesday after being examined for possible exposure to a herpes B virus from an infected monkey, officials at Emory University Hospital said. Similar exposure killed another worker earlier this month.

"At this time, four days later, after careful monitoring and testing, her physicians have found no evidence of herpes B infection," Emory officials said in a statement about the latest incident. "Out of that same precaution and concern, however, we will continue to monitor her over the next months."

The 41-year-old woman, who was working at the Emory-affiliated Yerkes laboratory near the university, was hospitalized Saturday. Her name was not released.

A friend, Robin Slater, told CNN affiliate WSB-TV that the woman was being treated with antibiotics for an eye infection. "She's doing real well ... but she's scared, as I guess she ought to be," he said on Tuesday.

It was not immediately clear when the latest exposure occurred.

Another Yerkes researcher, 22-year-old Elizabeth Griffin, died December 10 after she was infected with herpes B from a monkey at a Yerkes center in Lawrenceville, Georgia, near Atlanta.

In both cases, the women were splashed in the eye with a monkey's bodily fluid.

At work at Yerkes
A monkey is examined at the Yerkes Regional Primate Research Center   

Griffin did not seek medical attention until two weeks after the incident. She was discharged once from Emory Hospital before developing more symptoms. Once she was readmitted, the virus was too far advanced for her to be saved, hospital officials said.

Slater said his friend is "an animal caretaker" who was moving a monkey at the lab when fluid splashed in her face. She was wearing protective goggles, but fluid seeped in from the sides, he said.

Griffin was wearing a lab coat, mask, boots and gloves but no protective goggles when she contacted the virus. Before her death, the only known transmissions of the virus from monkeys to humans occurred from a bite or scratch. Only 40 cases of such transmissions have been recorded since 1933.

After her death, Yerkes ordered its employees to use eyewear for protection during tasks previously not considered risky for transmission of the herpes B virus.

The virus is common and usually harmless to monkeys. But it is fatal in 70 percent of cases involving humans. Symptoms include small blisters near the site of the infection, redness of the eyes, flu-like aches, headaches, and lack of coordination.

There is no known cure, but at least two infected people recovered after being treated with Acyclovir, a drug commonly used to treat the human herpes simplex virus. However, it's not known if the drug was responsible for their recoveries

CNN affiliate WSB-TV contributed to this report.

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