A potentially deadly strain of bacteria has somehow escaped its confines at a primate research lab in Louisiana.
Though it may sound like a scene from the beginning of a zombie horror movie, the strain has now infected four monkeys. Government officials say there is no threat to the public.
Burkholderia pseudomallei, the bacterium that escaped the lab, is common in Northern Australia and Southeast Asia. It can infect people and other primates through cuts in the skin, and has been studied as a potential bioweapon, ABC reported.
When humans are infected, they may experience flu-like symptoms, such as fever, headache, loss of appetite, and muscle and joint pain. In the unlikely event that the illness takes a turn for a worse, there is a 50 percent fatality rate.
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The bacterium is being studied at the Tulane National Primate Research Center in Louisiana. Spokesman Michael Strecker said four rhesus macaques who were not used in studies were infected with the bacteria. The CDC, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency are among the many organizations investigating how the monkeys got infected.
“The only connection among these four animals was their presence in the veterinary hospital during the same period of time,” said the center’s director, Dr. Andrew A. Lackner.
A federal investegator also tested positive for the bacterium, but it’s unclear if he contracted it at the center or while he was traveling.
"At present there is no evidence of Burkholderia pseudomallei in any human or other non-human primate at the TNPRC," Strecker said.
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The infected monkeys have been euthanized.