By: Caroline Machiraju
DANVILLE, Pa. – Michele Fallon reports her symptoms have subsided, but her anxiety is off the charts with questions that remain unanswered from the Pennsylvania Department of Health (DOH) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), following her up-close encounter with wild monkeys, related to a crash off Route 54, near I-80, on Jan. 21.
And that worry only intensified when a Geisinger Medical Center clinician came to Fallon’s residence unannounced on Jan. 25, stating she is under orders to “draw blood” from Fallon. Fallon had three vials of blood drawn, from the unnamed individual, dressed in medical attire, with no paper trail left behind of who sent her, or why.
Fallon said in a word, she’s “flustered.” She said she’s been getting the run-around, with her calls being bounced from her primary care doctor, who sends her to DOH, only to be referred to the CDC, but nobody has given her satisfactory answers, if any at all.
It was only when Fallon was serendipitously connected with longtime primate scientist Dr. Lisa Jones-Engel, who now works for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), that Fallon received a response – albeit a limited response – on who sent the clinician to her door. Dr. Jones-Engel advised Fallon who to contact at the CDC and PA Dept of Health and suggested the types of questions that she needed to be asking. DOH finally responded that they ordered the labs to test for “Herpes B and other known pathogens (from the monkeys).”
Fallon does not know what her Jan. 25 bloodwork showed, as she has not heard back from DOH or her primary care doctor, as of this writing. She said the initial correspondence from CDC representative Emily Pieracci, received the night of the incident, instructed Fallon to “monitor” for symptoms, but did not stress that she must quarantine or isolate.
Fallon sought treatment from the Geisinger Medical Center Emergency Room Jan. 23, the day after symptoms surfaced, namely a cough and something that resembled “pink-eye.”
Pieracci’s Jan. 21 letter to Fallon indicated that the monkeys would be quarantined for 31 days (thru Feb. 21) during which time the CDC would monitor them for “infectious diseases” and would contact DOH and Pa. State Police in the event the monkeys became ill during their quarantine period.
Jones-Engel, who saw close up the animal welfare abuses during her decades as a scientist, now finds herself in an advocacy-type role for Fallon. “If (Fallon) received an eyeful of monkey saliva in a lab, there are very clear protocols; she would be heading straight for medical evaluation. How to respond is rigorously outlined in biomedical research,” said Jones-Engel. “No one stepped up to give her the urgent guidance she deserves; not CDC or Pa. Department of Health.”
Fallon has laid out in a Jan. 28 letter to DOH representative Betsy Negron her frustrations: “It is unclear to me why the CDC veterinarian, Emily Pieracci,… did not initiate the standard Herpes B exposure protocol immediately after personally interviewing about my exposures at 11:30pm on January 21. It is also unclear and deeply concerning to me that a baseline blood sample was not collected until 4 days after my exposure. Perhaps the thing that I find most disturbing and unacceptable is that I have had to spend hours trying to get answers from the CDC, PA Dept of Health and Geisinger about the potential risks following my exposures. It is almost beyond belief that PA Dept of Health would send someone to my home to collect my blood without first contacting me and explaining why that was necessary. The fact that I allowed the samples to be collected even though there was no paperwork indicating why and where they were going reflects the real fear that I have been experiencing.
I deserve more information. I want to know where the monkeys are being quarantined, I want to know exactly what the monkeys are being tested for.”
Jones-Engel called it was a “twist of fate” that she met Fallon, acknowledging that she’s just the person who understands the implications for Fallon following this exposure. Jones-Engel clarified she is not giving her medical or legal advice, but sharing her professional insight, since “CDC has been a black hole.”
Jones-Engel also lamented that the CDC still has not been forthcoming on where the monkeys are now; or what their condition is. “The only silver lining is that by telling her (Fallon’s) story, she brought attention to this and now Kenya Airways has pledged to stop transporting monkeys. But this in no way, excuses the lack of information that the CDC has provided (Fallon).”
Asked why she left her 30-year career in biomedical research, Jones-Engel said: “I could no longer ignore within my own institution (University of Washington) the animal welfare failures, but also the use of primates was failing the science. Relying on monkeys as models for human diseases hasn’t worked. ‘They’ turned me into an activist,” she said.
Fallon, for one, is grateful for her activist-spirit. “She’s been my saving grace,” said Fallon. Fallon is going through the motions and doing as she’s told; but she said she isn’t receiving the information she believes deserves.
Harrisburg100 also reached out to PA DOH yesterday, seeking a statement, but they have not responded.
Fallon was a witness on the scene of a Jan.21 crash, involving a trailer hauling 100 monkees on Route 54, close to I-80, to a still unidentified CDC lab. When another bystander relayed falsely that the crates contained cats, Fallon, a self-described animal lover, checked on one crate up close, only to receive a spray of saliva from a hissing monkey inside.
The day after, Fallon told Harrisburg100 she developed a cough and something that resembled “pink-eye.” She visited the Geisinger Medical Center Emergency Room on Jan. 23, where she was given the first (of four) rabies shots. She also tested negative for Covid at that ER visit; and has since tested negative for Covid again on Jan. 29. She started a 14-day course of Valacyclovir, an antiviral, on Jan. 24; as well as antibiotic eye drops. She received her second rabies shot this week. Fallon said she threw up this past weekend, but attributes it to the high-dosage antiviral that’s been hard on her stomach.