Study: Monkey bites are the latest challenge in the Afghan war

December 18, 2012

A rhesus macaque monkey. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)

Just when you thought the 11-year, U.S.-led war effort in Afghanistan couldn't go any worse, the Center for Disease Control drops this bombshell on us (via journalist Brendan Koerner):

Bites from Macaca mulatta monkeys, native to Afghanistan, can cause serious infections. To determine risk for U.S. military members in Afghanistan, we reviewed records for September–December 2011. Among 126 animal bites and exposures, 10 were monkey bites. Command emphasis is vital for preventing monkey bites; provider training and bite reporting promote postexposure treatment.

That's right: U.S. servicemembers have suffered 10 rhesus macaque monkey bites during the Afghan war, a problem bad enough that the CDC says it requires "command emphasis" to address.

And the problem is expected to get worse:

As the mission in Afghanistan shifts from combat to ANSF mentoring and reconstruction, US and coalition troops will come into increasingly close contact with ANSF and Afghan civilians. Accordingly, the likelihood of deployed US military members being exposed to monkeys in Afghanistan will probably increase.

The report actually includes this chart with impressive data on all 10 incidents. See if you can find the one really surprising detail. Hint: it's in the right-most column.

Still don't see it? According the column labeled "monkey ownership," the primate responsible for biting a 26-year-old Air Force man was owned by the United States military. Why, exactly, does the U.S. military force in Afghanistan own monkeys, or at least a monkey? The CDC report doesn't say, but does hint at a possible explanation by noting, "Explicit orders prohibit deployed US military members from adopting local mascots."

Since the war began in 2001, 2,148 U.S. service members have died in Afghanistan. Though monkey bites have not been responsible for any of those, one does have to admire the CDC for trying to protect Americans in Afghanistan however it can.

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Max Fisher · December 18, 2012