Researchers report this month that red colobus monkeys in a park in western Uganda have been exposed to an unknown orthopoxvirus, a pathogen related to the viruses that cause smallpox, monkeypox and cowpox. Most of the monkeys screened harbor antibodies to a virus that is similar but not identical to known orthopoxviruses.
The findings appear online in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases.
This is the first effort to screen Ugandan red colobus monkeys for orthopoxviruses, said Tony Goldberg, a professor of veterinary pathobiology and of anthropology at the University of Illinois and lead author on the study.
Considering that we found evidence for a new poxvirus pretty much in the first place that we chose to look is suggestive that the actual diversity of poxviruses in nature, especially in relatively unstudied areas like sub-Saharan Africa, may be much greater than we originally thought, Goldberg said.
The study was begun in 2006 when Colin Chapman, a researcher at McGill University, invited Goldberg to collaborate on a health assessment of two groups of red colobus monkeys in Kibale National Park, in western Uganda.
Chapman, also an associate scientist with the Wildlife Conservation Society, had spent two decades studying the behavior and ecology of the monkeys. He wanted to broaden the study to include an analysis of the pathogens they carried. Wildlife veterinarians from the Wildlife Conservation Society helped collect the samples, and a team from Oregon Health and Science University, led by Mark Slifka, conducted immunological analyses to characterize the virus.
An initial screening for antibodies to the vaccinia virus yielded positive results in about one-quarter of the monkeys tested. This was not clear evidence of infection with vaccinia, however.
We found that as we screened these monkeys initially for a broad range of poxviruses, many of them came up positive, Goldberg said.
|Contact: Diana Yates|
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign