Protection of great apes: research on respiratory viruses

3 April 2014

BPRC - 1. Protection of great apes: research on respiratory viruses

Viruses can skip from monkeys to humans. The reverse situation can also occur. For health benefit of man and ape, it is important to investigate these potentially dangerous viruses.

Apes are very susceptible to human respiratory viruses. These viruses infect the respiratory tract. Outbreaks of influenza-like viruses in chimpanzees and gorillas in the wild have led to high morbidity and mortality rates. Human interaction with great apes in captivity (through animal care takers etc.) could therefore lead to infection with this type of viruses.

BPRC researchers have now retrospectively investigated the presence of these respiratory viruses in samples that had been stored in the freezer. The samples were derived from the former BPRC chimpanzee colony, gorillas from zoos and orang-utans from a rescue centre in Indonesia. Indeed, they detected influenza-like viruses in these animals. Although the clinical pictures of these apes appeared to be milder than those described for animals in the wild, it remains important to stick to strict rules for the care and housing of these protected animals to prevent new infections. This research is described in the journal Viruses.