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Infectious Diseases and Primates: Steps to Prevent, With Jam

Jul 07, 2015 12:27 PM EDT
Rhesus macaque
In monitoring urban monkeys and others that come into close contact with humans and could spread zoonotic diseases, scientists have found a new way to test the primates.
(Photo : Flickr: Paul Asman and Jill Lenoble)

Testing monkeys in the wild can be challenging-like trying to pin down a squirming two-year-old. Researchers at University of California, Davis recently published their findings in the online journal PLOS for a new technique that also might work with a two-year-old: Draw them in with strawberry jam. In the monkeys' case, it is placed on a length of rope that the primate happily gnaws, then drops. The rope is tested later for diseases that might jump from animals to humans.

UC Davis One Health Institute's PREDICT Project, which has been performing global disease surveillance for more than five years, has been challenged by screening primates for zoonotic pathogens - those diseases that animals can pass along to humans. In general, collecting blood or using oral swabs have required anesthesia in the field, according to a release.

But jam-plus-rope is really speeding up the process in challenging and remote locations, according to a release.

"This method is already being deployed in multiple countries throughout the world as part of the PREDICT project and is expanding our ability to investigate primate populations that we were previously unable to sample," said UC Davis professor Christine Kreuder Johnson, surveillance lead for the PREDICT project and senior author on the study, according to a release.

Oral samples were collected from rhesus macaques in Nepal; olive baboons, red-tailed guenons and L'hoest's monkeys in Uganda, among others. Viruses including herpesviruses and simian foamy viruses were detected in those samples, a release said.

It's important to test wild primates for diseases, particularly because they often come into contact with people in many parts of the world (such as at urban temples in Nepal, where food sometimes changes hands) and because they are closely related to us genetically, a release said.

Human-animal interfaces require monitoring, researchers said in the release, because they can lead to a spillover of pathogens that causes a pandemic.

Wild animals' viruses have resulted in more than 70 percent of emerging zoonotic diseases in humans. These have included viruses that caused pandemics such as HIV/AIDS, epidemics such as Ebola and smaller outbreaks like Marburg hemorrhagic fever, a release said.

For more about zoonotic diseases, see the World Health Organization information here and USAID Emerging Pandemic Threats Program information here.

Follow Catherine at @TreesWhales

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