Tuesday, April 16, 1996 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Ebola Virus Is Detected At Texas `Monkey Farm'


ALICE, Texas - The strain of Ebola virus responsible for the deaths of two monkeys poses virtually no threat to humans, health officials stressed today.

"This is not the Ebola Zaire strain," said Dr. David Smith, Texas Department of Health commissioner.

The virus infected two monkeys of a shipment of 100 that arrived at the Texas Primate Center on March 21 from the Philippines, said Dr. Diane Simpson, an epidemiologist at the Texas Department of Health.

The privately owned primate-breeding facility is about 15 miles southeast of Alice, a South Texas town 40 miles west of Corpus Christi.

"The first one died; the second was euthanized," Simpson said, adding that the rest are under quarantine. "We're watching any people who may have come in contact with them."

The sick monkeys came from the same Filipino exporter as the infected monkeys in Reston, officials said.

Last year in Zaire, Ebola infected 316 people and killed 245. Earlier this year, at least 13 people died from Ebola in Gabon in western Africa.

Ebola Zaire is one of the world's deadliest diseases, causing 80 percent of its victims to bleed to death. It is spread through bodily fluids, commonly through a break in the skin. It has no treatment and no cure.

The Alice center supplies monkeys to laboratories throughout the United States and does its own research. The monkeys live in hundreds of huts dotting the property.

Doctors had no reports of bites or scratches to monkey handlers, but are watching employees carefully as they try to contain the outbreak to the secluded facility.

This is the third virus outbreak at the facility since 1990.

The best-selling "Hot Zone" a nonfiction work, detailed research on Ebola Zaire and the case of a similar strain that infected monkeys at a primate facility in Reston, Va., in 1989.

Ebola Reston, however, has not been linked to illness in humans. And the virus at the Texas primate center is 99 percent similar to Ebola Reston, said Dr. Pierre Rollin, chief of the special pathogens branch at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

Another Ebola virus, similar to the Reston strain, infected a shipment of monkeys that arrived at the Alice center shortly after the '89 outbreak, Simpson said. It was contained in quarantine.

In 1991, a veterinarian at the primate center contracted a monkey herpes virus and died of complications, according to the Alice Echo-News.

Copyright (c) 1996 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.


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