For Immediate Release:
December 19, 2022
Tasgola Bruner 202-483-7382
Atlanta – Armed with recently obtained documents from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revealing that highly pathogenic agents—including one classified as a bioterrorism agent—regularly enter the U.S. in shipments of monkeys imported for laboratory experiments, PETA has called on Daniel Jernigan, acting director of the National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases at the CDC, to suspend the importation of primates for laboratory use immediately.
A case report just published by individuals working at the CDC, the Texas Department of State Health Services, and monkey importer Inotiv’s primate quarantine facility in Texas revealed that during 2021, at least four monkeys imported from Cambodia into Texas were released from quarantine despite being infected and likely shedding this deadly pathogen. At least six monkeys imported into the U.S. in 2020 and 2021 have been infected with the bacterium.
The same day that the CDC turned over the damning documents to PETA, the agency distributed a news release alerting the public to the presence of the bioterrorism agent Burkholderia pseudomallei in the soil and water of the Mississippi Delta region. Astonishingly, CDC officials said publicly that they had no idea how the bacterium got there. But the agency clearly knew of one possible source: monkeys infected with the agent imported into the U.S. for use in experiments, including as recently as 2021.
Melioidosis is the infectious disease caused by the bacterium Burkholderia pseudomallei. Disease symptoms can range from acute septicemia (blood poisoning) to chronic infection, resulting in death for 10% to 50% of those infected. Recurrence and reinfection are common. Given that the bacterium is shed in feces, urine, blood, saliva, and pus and can survive in contaminated soil or water for years, comprehensive disease notification is integral to mitigating public health risks.
“Melioidosis is one of the scariest diseases that you’ve never heard of,” says PETA Senior Science Advisor Lisa Jones-Engel. “Plucking diseased and distressed monkeys from their natural habitats and inserting them into the primate experimentation trade isn’t advancing human disease research, and PETA is calling on the CDC to listen to the scientific community and end this threat to humans and other animals.”
The CDC has known for years that monkeys transported to the U.S. for experimental use who have cleared the CDC-required quarantine period have been infected with melioidosis and other deadly pathogens. The bioterrorism agent even found its way into the CDC’s own monkey colony in 2013 and was also detected in an outdoor monkey colony in Louisiana in 2015. A 2020 publication found that 87.9% of the monkeys at a primate-export facility in Indonesia were seropositive for Burkholderia pseudomallei.
The CDC has failed to inform the public that potential exposure to and infection with this bioterrorism agent could occur via imported monkeys.
The documents released to PETA, which span the years of the global COVID-19 pandemic, also show that the CDC knew that imported monkeys, stressed and traumatized during a grueling international journey, were arriving infected with tuberculosis and other “unknown/indetermined” viruses that cause diarrhea so violent that it sheds the lining of the gut. The documents reveal that between 2019 and 2021, hundreds of monkeys who were imported into the U.S. and underwent quarantine exhibited gastrointestinal diseases and “[i]llness that may be of public health concern such as clinical signs consistent with filovirus [Ebola-like viruses] infection, confirmed Shigella and Campylobacter infection and malaria.”
The CDC quarantine is failing to prevent the introduction and spread of dangerous pathogens into and throughout the U.S.