- 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
- 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- Gessain says his latest unpublished research suggests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.
- Please visit my website "Emerging Diseases"
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Patricia Doyle, PhD Investigator of Emerging Diseases
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