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Woman reports symptoms after contact with research monkeys

DANVILLE, Pa. (NewsNation Now) — A woman is now experiencing health problems after coming into close contact with lab monkeys that escaped after a crash on a Pennsylvania highway.

Michelle Fallon witnessed a truck crash Friday while it was towing a trailer load of 100 of the animals. She stopped to help.

“I thought, well, zoo monkeys,” Fallon said. “I didn’t know these were animal test monkeys.”

The monkeys were from east Africa heading for a test lab.

“I thought they were OK, like they had their shots, they were good, they’ve been checked,” Fallon said. “I didn’t know they could have diseases or whatever.”

After checking on the driver, she went to look inside the animal crates.

Crates holding live monkeys are scattered across the westbound lanes of state Route 54 at the junction with Interstate 80 near Danville, Pa., Friday, Jan. 21, 2022, after a pickup pulling a trailer carrying the monkeys was hit by a dump truck. They were transporting 100 monkeys and several were on the loose at the time of the photo. (Jimmy May/Bloomsburg Press Enterprise via AP)

“They had this green cloth over, I peel it back and stick my finger in there to try and pet it,” Fallon said. “It pops its head up and I’m, like, ‘Oh, it’s a monkey.’”

Three of the monkeys escaped in the crash; one was recovered and two were put down.

But the hourslong escape forced health officials to issue an alert warning the community not to come into close contact with the primates because the species commonly spreads herpes virus ‘B’.

“I was there and I touched everything,” Fallon said.

Fallon is now on edge and unsure of what to do. Her close contact led to pinkeye and flu-like symptoms.

“I walked through their poop, I touched their crates, I tried to pet them, so now I don’t know what’s going on,” Fallon said.

As a precaution, she has received her first rabies vaccination and has been prescribed anti-viral medication. Doctors continue to monitor her symptoms.

Meanwhile, questions remain about what sort of medical research the monkeys are being used for and what they could be infected with.

University of California San Francisco infectious disease specialist Dr. Monica Gandhi joined NewsNation Prime to weigh in.


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