Unknown Herpes Found In Apes -
Poised To Jump To Humans
From Patricia Doyle, PhD <>
Chimpanzees and gorillas harbour previously unknown herpes viruses that may be poised to jump species into humans, as happened with HIV. The viruses, discovered by French researchers, are closely related to the one that causes a type of skin tumour in humans called Kaposi's sarcoma.
Kaposi's is a frequent complication of AIDS, but it is also endemic among people in Central Africa. Viruses similar to the Kaposi's virus have been found in macaques, so Antoine Gessain at the Pasteur Institute in Paris and his colleagues in Cameroon and Gabon began looking for related viruses in our closest relatives, the great apes. They found two in chimps and one in gorillas. Compared with those in macaques, says Gessain, "these are much closer to the human virus."
This similarity means that if these ape viruses were to infect humans they could cause illness, he says. And even if the ape viruses do not cause disease themselves, says Beatrice Hahn of the University of Alabama at Birmingham, if they were to infect a person already carrying the human Kaposi's virus, the two viruses could swap genes and create a new and highly dangerous pathogen.
Virologists are concerned that it is becoming increasingly likely that another ape virus will infect humans. As the timber trade expands into new parts of the West African forest, the people who move with it start consuming local "bushmeat", including primates.
Gessain says his latest unpublished research suggests that another virus in the family may already be infecting humans--a chimp virus that is very similar to viruses found in macaques in both Africa and Asia. "If this family [of viruses] is already so widely distributed in monkeys and apes, it would be strange if it were not in humans," he says. "We should look for it."
Hahn agrees, but cautions that the virus Gessain has found in chimps may be something that the animals caught from macaques while in captivity. "These experimental chimps are all babies rescued from the bushmeat trade," she says.
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