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AIDS-like Illness Found in African Chimps
Date:7/22/2009

Finding could shed light on how the disease affects humans

WEDNESDAY, July 22 (HealthDay News) -- Scientists have discovered that a species of African chimp can develop the equivalent of AIDS when infected with an HIV-like virus, a finding that could shed light on how the disease wreaks havoc in people.

The researchers already knew that apes could develop an HIV-like virus, but it generally didn't appear to actually cause illness. But they found that chimpanzees did, in fact, get sick.

The finding allows an examination of AIDS "from a different angle," said study co-author Dr. Beatrice Hahn, "and that usually has an advantage."

According to the researchers, primates in Africa harbor more than 40 types of viruses that target their immune systems like HIV does in humans. In fact, a couple of the viruses jumped to humans and created the two existing forms of HIV.

In their study, the researchers followed chimps in Tanzania's Gombe National Park for nine years, watching what happened to those infected with a simian equivalent of HIV.

Their findings appear in the July 23 issue of Nature.

The infected chimps were 10 to 16 times more likely than other chimps to die during a given year, said Hahn, a professor of medicine and microbiology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Infected females were also less likely to give birth, and their infants were more likely to die, the study found.

One female chimp died within three years of becoming infected with symptoms that the researchers said were consistent with the end stages of AIDS in humans.

Chimps appear to transmit the simian equivalent of HIV just like humans, Hahn said: They spread it through sex.

Hierarchy in groups of chimps can determine who gets to try to breed with females, she said, but the creatures are anything but monogamous.

"When the females are cycling, capable of be
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