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Monkeys In Asia Harbor Diverse Mammal Viruses That Could Infect Humans

Nov 09, 2015 11:41 AM EST
Young Macaque
Macaques carry diverse astroviruses, according to a recent study. Though, researchers are still unsure if monkeys are able to infect humans.
(Photo : Flickr: Christopher Kray)

Monkeys in Asia may be carrying a virus that can move between mammalian species, a recent study revealed. Specifically, scientists from the University of Washington found that an Old World monkey species known as macaques harbor more diverse astroviruses linked to gastroenteritis, or diarrhea, in humans. Until now researchers were unaware such human viruses were present in animals, and before this, they also felt that bats were the animals most likely to spread viruses of any kind.

"If you are a bat, you have bat astrovirus, but if you are a monkey, you could have everything," Lisa Jones-Engel, co-author of the study and a research scientist at the University of Washington National Primate Research Primate Center, explained in a news release

Macaques are small widespread primates native to Asia and Northern Africa. Previously, they have been used in other clinical studies, including AIDS research. In the recent study, scientists examined feces and blood samples of roughly 900 nonhuman primates in Bangladesh and Cambodia. This revealed that macaques carry astroviruses from a number of species, including human, bovine, bird, cow and dog. Now it appears astroviruses are not all species-specific. 

In fact, researchers found novel, recombinant strands of astroviruses in some of the monkeys. This finding requires further monitoring and testing to determine if monkeys can infect humans, researchers noted. Understanding this two-way street is particularly important for countries such as Bangladesh and Cambodia where macaques and humans live side-by-side.

While astroviruses are most commonly associated with diarrhea, they are also known to cause clinical diseases such as nephritis, hepatitis and encephalitis. When collecting the feces samples, some of the monkeys appeared to have diarrhea, though researchers are still unsure if macaques suffer from any other symptoms. 

Their study was recently published in the journal PLOS Pathogens.

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