New HIV Strain Came to Humans from Gorillas, Not Chimps

By Allison Bond | August 3, 2009 1:58 pm

gorillaIn 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.

Related Content:
80beats: Study Finds Chimps Do Die From HIV-Like Virus, Bucking Long-Held Assumption
80beats: More Than Two Years Later, HIV Vaccine Mystery Remains Unsolved
80beats: Step Towards an AIDS Vaccine? Monkey Muscles Produce HIV-Fighting Proteins

Image: flickr / mrflip

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, Living World
  • dsinla81

    View the new documentary “House of Numbers” to see why questions about this new strain must be raised and deeper issues about HIV and AIDS need to be discussed. Lives are at risk, and this is the first documentary with the worlds foremost authorities highlights the scientific problems with HIV testing, science, statistics, and why there is no cure. It sheds new light on a misunderstood phenomena. GO to to see the trailer

  • YouRang

    From dsinla81’s comments, it sounds like “House of numbers” is one of those bullshit assertions that HIV doesn’t cause AIDS. I’m not interested in bullshit.

  • Claire

    I don’t believe Magic Johnson would agree with these contentions (

  • Jessica

    YouRang – why don’t you at least view the trailer rather than draw conclusions from someone else’s comments? What makes you so sure HIV is the sole cause of AIDS? Allow your mind to consider something different than what we’ve been force fed for years.

  • Allison

    If nothing else, this program will get people questioning and bring this disease back to the table for discussion. Isn’t that a good thing, when something makes people use their brain to determine the validity of information?

  • NM

    The “behind-the-scenes” photos of the making of the film “House of Numbers” show David Rasnick – who is a”Rethinking AIDS” board member, former employee of the Matthias Rath Foundation in South Africa and colleague of Peter Duesberg – on the film’s set and seemingly working as a boom mike operator during an interview with Rian Milan. Rasnick says HIV tests should be outlawed and that SARS was invented by the Bush administration to damage China’s economy. As far as I can see, he is not listed anywhere in the film’s credits on the internet movie database.

    The movie’s trailer manages to cram several standard canards of AIDS deniers into just a few minutes.

    1) It shows director Brent Leung mugging for the camera when an HIV test counselor explains that information about about risk groups is used in diagnosis, as if this is something weird. It isn’t. Positive predictive values are a standard part of medical testing, because information on the prevalence of a disease in a given population helps calculate the possibility of a false positive (and essentially all medical tests have some risk of a false positive). See the Wikipedia entry for more information:

    The film’s misrepresentation of this fact reveals the agenda of the people who made it. On the movie’s Facebook page, an HIV positive individual who has fallen for this trick is talking about getting retested because they’ve been misled by Leung and his collaborators about why questions are asked about risk. This is disgusting.

    2) The trailer also tries to pretend that there is something weird about the range of opportunistic infections that can occur in AIDS, and the geographic variation in prevalence of different opportunistic infections. This is basic immunology. Immune deficiency allows pathogens that the immune system normally controls to cause disease, and the pathogens that your immune system is controlling depends on what pathogens you’ve been exposed to during your life. The pathogens a person in New York is typically exposed to are not all the same as the pathogens a person in Kampala is exposed to. So why is the film promoting misinformation? The quote from Duesberg about “lumping diseases” into the definition is a blatant and vile misrepresentation of the consequences of immune deficiency. The same spectrum of opportunistic diseases and geographical variations in incidence are seen in transplantation, where people are deliberately immune-suppressed to prevent transplant rejection.

    3) It features a person with a masters degree in biophysics, whose job it is to test people for sensitivity to UV radiation, claiming that the data does not prove HIV exists. This person has never conducted any virology or immunology research, and has no more expertise on the subject than the people who made the film. Meanwhile, hundreds of different HIV isolates are available from reagent programs, many completely genetically sequenced and entered in GenBank. Any research scientist can order these viruses, sequence them, and confirm it’s the same virus isolate as the one they ordered.

    4) It features a quote from Luc Montaigner at the end that the filmmakers try and claim is somehow controversial, when Montaigner is simply referring to the extensive literature on individuals who are highly exposed to HIV but resist HIV infection. This is commonly associated with the development of specific cellular immune responses against the virus and possession of particular genes that influence immune system function.

    So that’s some of the misinformation and misrepresentation they manage to fit into the 2:44 trailer. Bullshit is a pretty good description.

    If you want to learn more about what David Rasnick was up to in South Africa, read The Guardian’s series on the activities of Matthias Rath:


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