Mountain gorillas have herpes virus similar to that found in humans

July 13, 2017
Collecting plants chewed by wild mountain gorillas can tell researchers a lot about the gorillas' health. Credit: Tierra Smiley Evans/UC Davis

Scientists from the University of California, Davis, have detected a herpes virus in wild mountain gorillas that is very similar to the Epstein-Barr virus in humans, according to a study published today in the journal Scientific Reports.

Epstein Barr virus, or EBV, infects more than 90 percent of the human population, typically without major health consequences or symptoms. It can be challenging, however, for people with HIV/AIDS and suppressed immune systems, leading to certain forms of cancer. The Epstein-Barr virus is also one of the major causes of mononucleosis, commonly called the "kissing disease."

The study found that the mountain , a , have their own version of this - a specific strain of lymphocryptovirus 1, or GbbLCV-1.

Virus widespread, but few symptoms

For the study, UC Davis researchers from Gorilla Doctors collected plants chewed by wild mountain gorillas in Rwanda and Uganda and analyzed the saliva left on the plants. This non-invasive, oral sampling technique showed that the virus is widespread, infecting 52 percent of infant gorillas studied. That is a similar rate to what is found in human in less developed countries.

The researchers say that the virus carries little health risk for otherwise healthy mountain gorillas and, like EBV, is typically dormant in their bodies. None of the live gorillas studied showed symptoms of having it.

Wild mountain gorilla in Africa is shown. Credit: Tierra Smiley Evans/UC Davis

However, the research team found that some infant gorillas who died of natural causes and were necropsied had "pulmonary reactive lymphoid hyperplasia," a condition seen in human infants and young children with HIV/AIDS who become infected with EBV.

The findings could provide valuable information for human disease and have conservation implications for the gorillas.

"Viruses can behave similarly in different species," said lead author Tierra Smiley Evans, a post-doctoral researcher with the UC Davis One Health Institute in the School of Veterinary Medicine. "Learning about how gorillas react to this virus in their natural setting may help us have a better understanding of how Epstein-Barr affects human infants."

Mountain gorillas are one of humans' closest genetic relatives. Among the great apes, they are among the most studied. Veterinarians from the Gorilla Doctors, a partnership between the UC Davis Wildlife Health Institute and the nonprofit Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project, treat injured wild mountain gorillas and can continue to study this condition in the future.

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Superbug's spread to Vietnam threatens malaria control

September 21, 2017
A highly drug resistant malaria 'superbug' from western Cambodia is now present in southern Vietnam, leading to alarming failure rates for dihydroartemisinin (DHA)-piperaquine—Vietnam's national first-line malaria treatment, ...

Individualized diets for irritable bowel syndrome better than placebo

September 21, 2017
Patients with irritable bowel syndrome who follow individualized diets based on food sensitivity testing experience fewer symptoms, say Yale researchers. Their study is among the first to provide scientific evidence for this ...

A dose of 'wait-and-see' reduces unnecessary antibiotic use

September 21, 2017
Asking patients to take a 'wait-and-see' approach before having their antibiotic prescriptions filled significantly reduces unnecessary use, a University of Queensland study has shown.

Groundbreaking investigative effort identifies gonorrhea vaccine candidates

September 19, 2017
Researchers at Oregon State University have identified a pair of proteins that show promise as the basis for a gonorrhea vaccine.

Snail fever progression linked to nitric oxide production

September 14, 2017
Bilharzia, caused by a parasitic worm found in freshwater called Schistosoma, infects around 200 million people globally and its advance can lead to death, especially in children in developing countries.

Systems analysis points to links between Toxoplasma infection and common brain diseases

September 13, 2017
More than 2 billion people - nearly one out of every three humans on earth, including about 60 million people in the United States - have a lifelong infection with the brain-dwelling parasite Toxoplasma gondii.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.