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Virus Related to HIV Found in One Quarter of Ape Hunters in Gabon

Author: Mark Mascolini


09 January 2012

Nearly one quarter of humans bitten or scratched while hunting nonhuman primates in Gabon had evidence of simian foamy retrovirus (SFV), a virus closely related to HIV. The finding underlines the continuing risk of cross-species transmission of retroviruses.

SFV is a spumavirus closely related to HIV. From 70% to 90% of nonhuman primates born in captivity have SFV, which does not appear to cause symptomatic disease in these animals. Rates of SFV infection in wild primates and transmission risk to humans are not well defined.

An earlier study of people in southern Cameroon found that 7 of 29 (24%) who had contact with apes (gorillas or chimpanzees) tested positive for SFV, compared with 2 of 56 (4%) who did not have contact with apes (Calattini S, et al. Emerg Infect Dis. September 2007, click on link below).

In the new study, researchers collected 286 blood samples and 211 bush meat samples from 497 wild-born nonhuman primates in Gabon. They detected anti-SFV antibodies in 31 plasma samples (11%). The integrase gene sequence could be detected in 38 of 497 samples (8%). Novel SFV sequences were found in several Cercopithecus guenon monkeys.

Of the 78 humans tested, most were hunters. All had been bitten or scratched by nonhuman primates. Nineteen of these people (24%) tested positive for SFV, and 15 (19%) had PCR-confirmed SFV. All but one of these people were infected with ape SFV. Cross-species transmission appeared to result mainly from gorilla bites.

Source: Augustin Mouinga-Ondémé, Mélanie Caron, Dieudonné Nkoghé, Paul Telfer, Preston Marx, Ali Saïb, Eric Leroy, Jean-Paul Gonzalez, Antoine Gessain, Mirdad Kazanji. Cross-species transmission of simian foamy virus to humans in rural Gabon, Central Africa. Journal of Virology. 2012; 86: 1255-1260.

For the study abstract

(Downloading the complete article requires a subscription to the Journal of Virology or an online payment; the abstract is free.)

For the Calattini article