BRASILIA (Reuters) - The worst yellow fever outbreak in decades is not just killing Brazilians, it threatens to wipe out monkeys in the Atlantic rainforest that are already close to extinction, experts warned on Tuesday.
So far 400 monkeys have been found dead in the state of Espirito Santo where the fever outbreak has spread from neighboring Minas Gerais.
At greatest risk is the muriqui monkey, Brazil’s largest primate and one of the planet’s 25 most-endangered species of primates, said biologist Roberto Cabral at the Brazilian environmental agency Ibama.
“The monkeys are vulnerable to yellow fever just like humans but we have vaccines to protect us, they don’t,” Cabral said. “They are being decimated.”
Farmers first alerted authorities about the dying animals when they realized that the forest had gone silent and the monkeys had disappeared.
Yellow fever is a viral disease found in tropical regions of Africa and the Americas that mainly affects humans and monkeys and is transmitted by the same type of mosquito that spreads dengue and the Zika virus.
Public health officials have confirmed the death of 46 humans from yellow fever in rural areas and are urging people to get vaccinated in nine states where the disease is present to prevent the outbreak from becoming an epidemic. Most of the cases were reported in Minas Gerais state.
Ibama has received reports of rural inhabitants killing monkeys out of the erroneous belief that they can transmit yellow fever to humans.
“Some people are blaming the monkeys, which is absurd, because the mosquitoes are the villains,” said Cabral. “The monkeys are helping us humans by alerting us to the presence of yellow fever.”
Reporting by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Tom Brown