The importance of getting to the bottom of such lingering questions led Chiu to suggest that the investigation has so far only "touched the tip of the iceberg."
"Nature finds a way to introduce a new virus every couple of years," he said. "And this means we have to be alert to viruses and the risk for spreading into the human population."
This is important, Chiu said, "because most of the viruses that we know cross over from animals to human all the time don't stick. They don't go anywhere. So if we find that they can cross, and then acquire the ability to move from human to human, that's a cause for worry. Because those two factors are what raise the risk for a pandemic. And this case suggests that perhaps we might want to track these animal viruses a bit more before they have the chance to cross over into the human population."
For his part, Dr. Pascal James Imperato, dean of the School of Public Health at the State University of New York Downstate Medical Center in New York City, emphasized that while questions about the case endure, the public should not be unduly alarmed.
"Clearly, this virus was not indigenous to the monkeys who were affected," he noted. "If these monkeys were the normal host for this species they would have accommodated to it, and they wouldn't have died off at this rate. So it was introduced to them. And the question is, from which species was it introduced and how?" Imperato said.
"But on the positive side, I would say that the risk here would appear to be low," he added. "And the reason we can say that is that there were no other reported secondary cases to the primary human case -- at least not in a serious form of the illness -- as far as one can document this. And these two individuals who were infected
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