The Zika virus appeared in the Americas in 2015, but it has been present in Africa and Asia since the 1940s.
Though the spread of the disease has virtually ended, Zika is a “zoonotic” virus — meaning it can be transferred from animals to humans and vice-versa. Even if it were eradicated in humans, it could live on in animals, creating the possibility of another outbreak.
To decrease this risk, a team of researchers co-led by Krista Milich, an anthropologist from Washington University in St. Louis, have begun to study whether primates in South America are possible carriers of Zika. After developing a successful method for detecting the virus in feces, the team has begun testing samples from primates living in countries throughout South America.
Milich holds no animosity toward animal carriers of the virus, but she warns of the dangers of keeping wild animals as pets. She adds that if the primates they study are found to be infected with the disease, she hopes humans will keep a respectful distance and cease contact with them.