Pennsylvania woman being treated for rabies after encountering monkey in aftermath of crash

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A woman who happened upon the Friday crash of a pickup towing a trailer transporting 100 monkeys is being treated after a monkey spit at her and she developed pink-eye symptoms.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) said the U.S. Department of Agriculture is investigating the accident, which occurred on an east-central Pennsylvania highway, and the subsequent attempts to round up some of the cynomolgus macaque monkeys who had escaped from their crates.

The accident involved the collision of the pickup and a dump truck near the Danville exit on Interstate 80. Pennsylvania State Police said several monkeys had escaped following Friday's collision and one remained unaccounted for overnight.

Michele Fallon, the Danville, Pennsylvania woman who came upon the crash told the Press Enterprise newspaper when she and another motorist who stopped to help, the other driver said he thought he saw a cat run across the road.

Since Fallon's comments about the incident have been in local and national news, she told USA TODAY some people are accusing her of being paid by the media to talk about the crash – and for not using common sense at the accident site.

At the time, Fallon said after she learned the crates contained monkeys, she assumed they were being transported to a zoo because the driver never mentioned anything about the monkeys being imported and being transported to a lab.

"If I had been told … I would never have touched anything," Fallon said. About going to get medical treatment after developing a cough, runny nose and pinkeye-like symptoms, Fallon said, "I wanted to be cautious. I even told the doctors I don't want to overreact on this, but I don't want to underreact either."

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A young long-tailed macaque monkey, also known as a cynomolgus or crab-eating macaque monkey, in Cambodia. This monkey was released after biological samples were collected to study the types of infectious agents that they may harbor or have been exposed to.
A young long-tailed macaque monkey, also known as a cynomolgus or crab-eating macaque monkey, in Cambodia. This monkey was released after biological samples were collected to study the types of infectious agents that they may harbor or have been exposed to.

Some local residents, Fallon said, "are making out like, 'Oh, I have this new monkey virus. It's a monkey pox and there is going to be an outbreak. … It's just a monkey hissed in my face. That's all that happened. I want to protect myself."

Kristen Nordlund, a spokesperson with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in an email to the Associated Press Saturday night that all 100 of the monkeys had been accounted for. Three were euthanized.

Fallon, who will be on preventative medicine for about two weeks, shared a letter she got from the CDC dated Jan. 21 in which she is told that if she was within 5 feet of the crates holding the monkeys and not wearing personal protective equipment, she should be alert to any illnesses in the next month. The CDC requires a minimum quarantine of 31 days for monkeys after they arrive in the U.S., the letter said.

PETA criticized the CDC for what it considers shoddy follow-up in the aftermath of the incident. Persons scratched or bitten by a macaque monkey are at risk for the Herpes B Virus, as well as other diseases including salmonella, tuberculosis, yellow fever and other illnesses, according to the CDC's site.

Reports from the scene suggested that "feces and urine from the terrified monkeys were reportedly smeared across the highway as crates – that weren’t strapped in as required – flew from the truck, and the CDC should be scrambling to ensure that numerous people who were at the scene aren’t in danger," PETA said.

Follow-up is not only important for passersby who came across the accident but for first responders, Lisa Jones-Engel, senior science advisor for primate experimentation at PETA, told USA TODAY. "I'm surprised the CDC has not been more responsive to the first responders on this."

After Fallon checked on the health of the pickup driver and passenger at the crash site, Fallon told USA TODAY she began checking the trailer it had been pulling. Some crates had come out of the trailer and she was concerned for the animals, which at the time she assumed were cates.

She pulled up a cloth covering one of the crates and stuck her finger inside the chicken wire enveloping it and "I hear this weird noise," Fallon said. When she tried to get a closer look, "it just pops his head up and hisses at me. It's a monkey."

After the incident, Fallon said she developed the symptoms and went to the emergency room Sunday where she began a series of rabies shots and antibiotics – she had an open cut that concerned health care workers – and tested negative for COVID. Fallon, who is 45, is uncertain if the symptoms are related because her family had been ill recently, too. And two people who attended a party she went to Saturday later tested positive for COVID-19.

"So I'm like, maybe that's where my symptoms are coming from, because I was around people who had been sick," she said. "It's like I went from a monkey situation to a COVID party situation. It's ridiculous."

USDA spokesman Andre Bell told USA TODAY the agency is looking into PETA’s letter. The CDC did not respond to requests for comment on the incident.

PETA asked the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to investigate the incident for potential violations in the transportation and handling of the monkeys, which PETA said were en route to a laboratory in Missouri. "We believe the handling and treatment of monkeys before, during and after the collision may constitute violations," PETA vice president Alka Chandna, said in a letter addressed to Robert Gibbens, director of animal welfare operations at the USDA's APHIS.

Crates holding live monkeys are collected next to the trailer they were being transported in along state Route 54 at the intersection with Interstate 80 near Danville, Pa., Friday, Jan. 21, 2022, after a pickup pulling the trailer carrying the monkeys was hit by a dump truck.
Crates holding live monkeys are collected next to the trailer they were being transported in along state Route 54 at the intersection with Interstate 80 near Danville, Pa., Friday, Jan. 21, 2022, after a pickup pulling the trailer carrying the monkeys was hit by a dump truck.

In laboratories, workers wear personal protective equipment to protect them from monkeys' bodily fluids, scratches and bites. Any exposures, such as the kind Fallon has described, "are immediately treated following strict and rigorous protocols to reduce the risk of disease transmission," Jones-Engel said.

About 1.2 million macaque monkeys have been imported into the U.S. since 1975, Jones-Engel said. She provided a CDC PowerPoint presentation showing the number of non-human primates imported declining between 2019 and 2020 – China is limiting how many it exports – and more animals reported dead on arrival and dying during quarantine.

"In the end, this doesn't work," she said. "The monkeys are not giving us the treatments, they're not giving us the vaccines. All we're doing is increasing the risk for the human population. "

An editorial in the Press Enterprise took a different tack, suggesting that studies on monkeys and primates are essential to medical research including helping "wounded soldiers and stroke victims regain independence after losing limbs or the control over them," it wrote.

It’s easy to understand why many people found themselves on the monkeys’ side when they broke loose of their cages near Danville and fled for freedom," the editorial said. "They’re furry, cute, intelligent animals. And our nation’s labs should be doing absolutely everything possible to ensure the minimum number of animals are subjected to tests that will secure a scientifically valid result. … But if we value the medical advancement non-human primate research has brought, we must also recognize shipments like the one that crashed in Danville on Friday are needed."

Contributing: The Associated Press

Follow Mike Snider on Twitter: @mikesnider.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Monkey encounter at Pennsylvania crash: Woman being treated for rabies

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