The virus that jumped from monkey to man: adenovirus infected humans from titi monkeys

in environment, medicine, biology

Like a chain reaction, 23 of the 65 titi monkeys housed in a building in California Primate Research Center came down with a severe infection and 19 died.  Three humans also fell sick. This deadly outbreak of fulminant pneumonia and hepatitis occurred in the closed colony of New World titi monkeys in May 2009.

Researchers have now discovered TMdV (titi monkey adenovirus), a novel adenovirus with the capacity to infect both monkeys and humans, as the causative pathogen. The finding suggests that adenoviruses should be monitored closely as potential causes of cross-species outbreaks.


Titi Monkeys. Image Credit: PLoS

Adenoviral infections have been thought to be species specific. The novel virus that spread through the California New World titi monkey colony in late 2009 has been shown to have also infected a human researcher and a household family member, in a documented example of an adenovirus "jumping" from one species to another and remaining contagious after the jump. Researchers at the UCSF Viral Diagnostics and Discovery Center, led by Dr. Charles Chiu, confirmed that the virus was the same in the titi monkeys and humans, and that the virus is highly unusual in both populations.

Titi monkeys are the New World monkeys of the genus Callicebus, they live in South America

The  findings were published in an article appeared today in the Open Access journal PLoS Pathogens.

Adenoviruses are known to cause a wide range of clinical illnesses in humans, from cold-like symptoms to diarrhea and pneumonia. Unlike influenza or coronaviruses, adenoviruses had previously not been known to spread from one species to another. "Now adenoviruses can be added to the list of pathogens that have the ability to cross species," said Charles Chiu, MD, PhD, an assistant professor of laboratory medicine at UCSF and director of the viral diagnostics center.

At the onset of the outbreak, the researcher in closest contact with the monkeys developed an acute respiratory illness, with symptoms persisting for 4 week. This was followed by symptoms in two members of the researchers' family who had no contact with the monkey colony.

But which direction the virus spread – from monkeys to humans or vice versa – remains a mystery. The viral center is now conducting further studies in both humans and monkeys in Brazil and Africa to determine whether TMAdV is common in wild populations of monkeys, as well as whether it has crossed species in those settings to humans who live nearby.

Source article: Cross-Species Transmission of a Novel Adenovirus Associated with a Fulminant Pneumonia Outbreak in a New World Monkey Colony. Chen EC, Yagi S, Kelly KR, Mendoza SP, Maninger N, et al. (2011) PLoS Pathog 7(7): e1002155. doi:10.1371/journal.ppat.1002155

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