In the first known case of its kind, scientists have identified a strain of HIV that can be traced to gorillas, not chimpanzees, according to a report in Nature Medicine. The new strain was detected in a Cameroonian woman living in France.
Previous strains of HIV virus type 1, the main type of the disease, have been shown to have arisen from chimpanzees, and researchers found that the new virus is dissimilar enough from previously known strains that it cannot be detected by standard HIV tests. After genetic analysis, scientists also found that the infection is closely related to gorilla simian immunodeficincy virus, or SIVgor, the gorilla version of HIV. Genetic analysis of the woman’s virus shows that it is so closely related to SIVgor that “the most likely explanation for its emergence is gorilla-to-human transmission” [Bloomberg], says co-author Jean-Christopher Plantier.
Scientists say the discovery shows the importance of ongoing vigilance for new strains of HIV. “This demonstrates that HIV evolution is an ongoing process. The virus can jump from species to species, from primate to primate, and that includes us; pathogens have been with us for millions of years and routinely switch host species” [BBC News], says study coauthor David Robertson. Experts say that although the 62-year-old patient with the new strain shows no symptoms of AIDS, there is no reason to believe this new HIV strain would not lead to AIDS–but they also note that the strain will probably respond to conventional HIV treatments. “If some day we do manage to develop a vaccine, there’s no reason to believe it wouldn’t work… There’s no reason to believe this virus will present any new problems, as it were, that we don’t already face” [BBC News], Robertson says.
Scientists say the Cameroonian woman likely is not the only human infected with the strain. “The human case described here does not seem to be an isolated incident, as before coming to Paris the subject had lived in the semiurban area of Yaounde, the capital of Cameroon, and reported no contact with apes or bush meat,” the researchers said [CNN]. That indicates the virus likely was contracted through human-to-human contact.
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Image: flickr / mrflip