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Primate virus jumps species barrier to humans for first time in Asia

onkey temples ?places of religious worship that have become refuges for populations of primates ?are common throughout much of South and Southeast Asia. In these areas, protected macaque populations have thrived alongside dense human settlement for centuries.

On the island of Bali alone, there are more than 40 such temples, which are frequented by tourists from around the world. About 700,000 international tourists visit the island's four main monkey temples every year. Temple workers and people who live near the temples also have a great deal of contact with monkeys at the religious sites.

"In Asia, the amount of contact between humans and primates in temple settings dwarfs the contact due to bushmeat hunting," says Jones-Engel. For this study, the researchers tested blood samples from 82 people who work in or around a temple in Bali, as well as samples from macaques in the area. They found antibodies for simian foamy virus in the blood of one 47-year-old farmer who visited the temple every day. They confirmed the tests by performing a DNA analysis of the man's blood, and found that the SFV strain he carried was the same strain found in the temple's macaques. The man denied owning a monkey as a pet, or hunting monkeys for food. He had been bitten once and scratched more than once by the temple's macaques.

Researchers still don't know the long-term effects of SFV on humans ?there are about 40 known cases of people being infected, through laboratory or zoo contact, or through bushmeat hunting in Africa. There are no known cases of human disease yet.

However, Jones-Engel and her fellow researchers warn that there are other primate viruses known to be harmful that could jump the species barrier. They don't want people to be afraid of coming in contact with macaques or other primates, but they do urge people to be cautious and careful when interacting with monkeys. Feeding the animals, or even carrying food into a temple, can greatly incr
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Source:University of Washington


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