New Virus Jumps From Monkeys to Lab Worker

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Science  22 Jul 2011:
Vol. 333, Issue 6041, pp. 391-392
DOI: 10.1126/science.333.6041.391-c

Within weeks after a single titi monkey came down with pneumonia at the California National Primate Research Center in Davis, 19 monkeys were dead and three humans were sick. The Davis outbreak was the first known case of an adenovirus jumping from monkeys to humans, according to a new report in PLoS Pathogens.


A team led by infectious diseases researcher Charles Chiu of the University of California, San Francisco, analyzed lung tissue samples from the dead monkeys and identified a new adenovirus, which they named titi monkey adenovirus (TMAdV).

It's unlikely that the virus originated in the titi monkeys themselves, Chiu says: “Hosts that are that susceptible to a disease are not likely to be its originators.” Humans were also not likely to be the source of the virus: Although a lab worker fell ill during that period and her blood showed the same antibodies as those in the infected monkeys, those antibodies didn't appear anywhere in a representative set of 81 blood samples from donors in the western United States. Instead, the virus might have originated in rhesus macaques. One healthy rhesus macaque at the primate center did have the TMAdV antibodies.

Michael Imperiale, a microbiologist at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, says TMAdV isn't necessarily a public health threat. He likens the virus to avian influenza, which humans can contract from birds but that is so poorly transmissible between people that it hasn't triggered an epidemic. “The question isn't just whether the virus can jump, but also whether it can widely spread,” he says. “That hasn't been proven yet.”

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