Simian foamy virus found to be passed from monkeys to humans

A research team from the University of Washington, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and Jahangirnagar University announced on Wednesday that they found humans in Bangladesh who were infected with strains of the simian foamy virus.

The researchers were studying the transmission of a virus from monkeys to humans in Bangladesh, where there is close interaction between humans and monkeys. They found that some strains of the simian foamy virus, a retrovirus like HIV, eventually showed up in some human subjects.

"If we want to understand how, where and why these primate viruses are being transmitted, we need to be looking at SFV in Asia where millions of people and tens of thousands of macaques are interacting everyday and where we estimate that thousands of people could be infected with strains of SFV," Lisa Jones-Engel, a primatologist with the National Primate Research Center at the University of Washington and the project leader, said. "These Asian rhesus macaques are Darwinian superstars. They are very responsive to change and, unlike many other species of primates, they are going to continue to thrive in human-altered habitats."

The researchers collected biological samples from hundreds of people and humans. In preliminary data, the researchers discovered that most of the transmissions came from bites. SFV replicates in oral tissue and is secreted in saliva, making transmission from bites the most common source.

"Despite the fact that SFV is currently not known to be pathogenic, this was also the case for SIV before recombination and mutation allowed infection of and transmission between new hosts," Maxine Linial, a retrovirologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, said. "The possibility that a pathogenic SFV strain could arise makes it essential to monitor natural infections. If a viral strain with pathogenic potential arises, we will know about it early rather than too late, which was the situation with the emergence of HIV."