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Common human viruses threaten endangered great apes
Date:1/25/2008

Common human viruses are responsible for outbreaks of respiratory disease that have led to the decline of endangered chimpanzees in the wild, according to a study reported online on January 24th in Current Biology, a publication of Cell Press. The findingswhich are the first to provide direct evidence of virus transmission from humans to wild great apesillustrate the challenge of maximizing the benefit of research and tourism to great apes while minimizing the negative side effects that come with human contact, the researchers say.

Research and tourism has a strong positive effect on great apes survival since it reduces poaching activities in these areas and gives more political weight to the apes and protected areas, said Fabian Leendertz of Robert Koch-Institut and Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany. [The spread of viruses] has been a concern, but people had never proven it. Our demographic analyses of chimpanzees suggest that this started as soon as people got close enough to chimps to transmit diseases. There is a correlation between habituationthe proximity between humans and chimpsand disease outbreaks.

Commercial hunting and habitat loss are major drivers of the rapid decline of great apes, the researchers said. Ecotourism and research have been widely promoted as a means of providing alternative value for apes and their habitats. While close contact between humans and habituated apes has raised concerns about disease transmission, previous studies had only demonstrated the spread of relatively mild bacterial and parasitic infections from humans to wild apes.

In the new study, the researchers gathered evidence from chimpanzees hit by five distinct respiratory outbreaks between 1999 and 2006 in Cte d'Ivoire, West Africa. The outbreaks sickened almost all of the chimps and led to a significant number of deaths.

All available tissue samples taken from chimps who had died tested positive for one
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Contact: Cathleen Genova
cgenova@cell.com
617-397-2802
Cell Press
Source:Eurekalert

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