In a study published online this week in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases, an international team of researchers report that a virus that causes respiratory disease in humans infected and contributed to the deaths of mountain gorillas in Virunga National Park. This finding raises questions about the safety of ecotourism for endangered species.
The study, which appears in the April issue of the journal, was conducted by scientists at Columbia University's Center for Infection and Immunity (CII), Roche 454 Life Sciences, the UC Davis Wildlife Health Center and the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project, a US-based non-profit organization.
Mountain gorillas (Gorilla beringei beringei) live primarily in Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Virunga National Park, which houses about a third of the world's remaining gorilla population. Despite international efforts to protect this endangered species, there are currently fewer than 800 living mountain gorillas in the world.
Now, this study, which focuses on an outbreak of respiratory disease in the Hirwa group of mountain gorillas in 2009, suggests that these animals may also be susceptible to human pathogens. Infectious diseases, especially respiratory ones, are the second leading cause of sudden deaths among mountain gorillas, after poaching.
Growing ecotourism has increased interactions between humans and wild animals living in these parks, intensifying the chance for disease transmission. While ecotourism has heightened awareness of the need to safeguard endangered species, world travel also has the potential to quickly spread disease.
Local authorities have recently tried to reduce animals' exposure to potentially harmful pathogens by limiting the number of tourists visiting wildlife parks and requiring visitors to wear protective masks. Despite these efforts, the frequency and severity of respiratory disease outbreaks among gorillas have been on the rise. In fact, of the 12 gorillas in the Hirwa group, 11 showed classic symptoms of respiratory infection, including coughing, runny nose and lethargy. Two of these gorillas, an adult female and her male infant, died.
Using state-of-the-art molecular methods, CII researchers found evidence of respiratory tract infection with human metapneumovirus (HMPV) and bacterial pneumonia in the female's lungs, throat and nose.
Further tests confirmed that HMPV found in the lungs of sick gorillas was closely related to strains circulating in South Africa, over 1,000 miles away, suggesting that tourists may have carried the virus into the parks.
'Pure' HMPV infections typically result only in mild damage to the respiratory system, suggesting that an interaction between HMPV and bacterial pneumonia may have been the cause of death. This observation is consistent with other studies that have shown that respiratory viruses like HMPV and H1N1, can make hosts more susceptible to opportunistic infections, like pneumonia.
CII investigator and first author, Gustavo Palacios, stated, "we usually think of viruses as jumping from wildlife to humans, but what we often don't realize is that this is a two-way highway."
"This study illustrates the importance of global commitment to the One Health Initiative," commented CII Director, Dr. W. Ian Lipkin. The One Health Initiative is a movement whose aim is to promote collaboration among environmental, agricultural, veterinary and human health sectors. Says Dr. Lipkin, "Conservation efforts must be expanded to protect wild animals from human pathogens to which they likely lack immunity."
Daniela Hernandez | EurekAlert!
The Great Unknown: Risk-Taking Behavior in Adolescents
19.01.2017 | Max-Planck-Institut für Bildungsforschung
A sudden drop in outdoor temperature increases the risk of respiratory infections
11.01.2017 | University of Gothenburg
For the first time ever, a cloud of ultra-cold atoms has been successfully created in space on board of a sounding rocket. The MAIUS mission demonstrates that quantum optical sensors can be operated even in harsh environments like space – a prerequi-site for finding answers to the most challenging questions of fundamental physics and an important innovation driver for everyday applications.
According to Albert Einstein's Equivalence Principle, all bodies are accelerated at the same rate by the Earth's gravity, regardless of their properties. This...
An important step towards a completely new experimental access to quantum physics has been made at University of Konstanz. The team of scientists headed by...
Yersiniae cause severe intestinal infections. Studies using Yersinia pseudotuberculosis as a model organism aim to elucidate the infection mechanisms of these...
Researchers from the University of Hamburg in Germany, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Aarhus in Denmark, have synthesized a new superconducting material by growing a few layers of an antiferromagnetic transition-metal chalcogenide on a bismuth-based topological insulator, both being non-superconducting materials.
While superconductivity and magnetism are generally believed to be mutually exclusive, surprisingly, in this new material, superconducting correlations...
Laser-driving of semimetals allows creating novel quasiparticle states within condensed matter systems and switching between different states on ultrafast time scales
Studying properties of fundamental particles in condensed matter systems is a promising approach to quantum field theory. Quasiparticles offer the opportunity...
19.01.2017 | Event News
10.01.2017 | Event News
09.01.2017 | Event News
23.01.2017 | Health and Medicine
23.01.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
23.01.2017 | Process Engineering