Researchers say adenoviruses could jump from monkeys to humans

Research at the University of California at San Francisco discovered a new adenovirus species that can spread between primates and possibly from monkeys to humans, according to a recent study in PLOS One.

The scientists tested a previously identified adenovirus that killed most of the New World titi monkeys in a closed monkey colony during an outbreak in California in 2009. The research team found that three marmoset monkeys exposed to the same virus developed a mild respiratory illness and an antibody response to the infection before eliminating the virus within 12 days.

The researchers said the results demonstrate that the new virus can infect and cause diseases across primate species.

"This study raises more concerns about the potential of unknown viruses to spread from animals to humans," Charles Chiu, the lead scientist of the study, said. "We still don't understand the full extent of viruses that exist in the world and their potential to cause outbreaks in human populations."

During the 2009 outbreak, a research scientist who worked closely with the monkeys and a family member became ill and developed antibodies to the virus.

Last year, Chiu and his colleagues identified simian adenovirus C, a virus that sickened four of nine captive baboons and killed two of them at a primate facility in 1997. Several staff members of the facility complained of upper respiratory symptoms at the time of the outbreak. Chiu said that while adenoviruses are not generally linked to cross-species infections, adenoviruses should be added to the normal virulence of tracking animal viruses that could infect humans.

In 2009, scientists found that a more virulent strain of human adenovirus resulted from the recombination with other distinct strains of milder human adenoviruses.

"We believe that's similar to what happened with the simian adenovirus C outbreak in Texas," Chiu said. "This new virus likely formed when an existing adenovirus recombined with another, generating a new strain that was highly virulent to baboons."

Chiu is working on new computational techniques that will be able to more quickly identify novel, disease-causing viruses.