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Researchers examine consequences of non-intervention for infectious disease in African great apes
Date:2/6/2012

he increase in population pressure around protected areas," said Ryan. "These small populations of great apes are the last vestiges of our closest relatives, so there is a huge emotional response when it comes to the question of intervention. Should we or can we wait, or should we use proactive intervention by vaccinating ahead of time?"

Both "naturally" occurring pathogens, such as Ebola and Simian Immunodeficiency Virus (SIV), and respiratory pathogens transmitted from humans, such as the common cold and flu viruses, have been confirmed as important sources of mortality in wild gorillas and chimpanzees, and the rate of pathogen spillover from humans to African apes is known to be increasing. Although awareness of the threat has spread throughout the scientific community, interventions such as vaccination and treatment remain very controversial, the researchers noted.

Because of the scarcity of diagnostic data on exactly which pathogens infect apes and at what rates, Ryan and Walsh found it difficult to rigorously quantify how increased tourism would translate into increased disease pressure on ape populations. As a result, they assessed and compared potential future disease spillover risk in terms of vaccination rates among humans that may come into contact with wild apes, and the availability of vaccines against potentially threatening diseases with non-interventionist responses, such as limiting tourist access to the primates, community health programs, increased vigilance, and reactive veterinary intervention.

Based on their findings, Ryan and Walsh suggest that the great ape conservation community "pursue and promote treatment and vaccination as weapons in the arsenal for fighting the decline of African apes." They recommend that field studies on safe and efficient methods for delivering treatments and vaccines orally be conducted, along with evaluating the cost-effectiveness of all ape conservation strategies.

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Contact: George Foulsham
george.foulsham@ia.ucsb.edu
805-893-3071
University of California - Santa Barbara
Source:Eurekalert  

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