Mountain gorillas die from human virus

After I had read about the plight of mountain gorillas in Dian Fossey’s Gorillas in the Mist, I came across a press release in 2011 that intrigued and saddened me.  Somehow, the release got lost and didn’t surface until recently.  Still wanting to publish this story, I wrote the University of California, Davis, to find out if the information was still valid.  Katherine E. Kerlin, of UC Davis public relations staff replied:  “I just heard back from the researcher, who said: ‘The info is still valid: the study was published in Emerging Infectious Diseases 17(4): 711-713. There haven’t been any news releases about this particular topic since then.'” We know that humans can get diseases from animals (e.g. West Nile Virus from mosquitoes) but what about the other side of the coin?  Here’s the story from UC Davis.

HUMAN VIRUS LINKED TO DEATHS OF ENDANGERED MOUNTAIN GORILLAS

English: Silverback Mountain Gorilla with one ...

Silverback Mountain Gorilla with one of his females (Photo credit: Wikipedia – free use)

For the first time, a virus that causes respiratory disease in humans has been linked to the deaths of wild mountain gorillas, reports a team of researchers in the United States and Africa.  [A two-minute video of veterinarians treating a wild mountain gorilla for a respiratory illness is online at <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=epld9ViVuX8>.]

The finding confirms that serious diseases can pass from people to these endangered animals.

The researchers are from the nonprofit Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project; the Wildlife Health Center at the University of California, Davis; the Center for Infection and Immunity at Columbia University; and the Rwanda Development Board.

Their study, which reports the 2009 deaths of two mountain gorilla that were infected with a human virus, was published online today by the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases, a publication of the U.S.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Because there are fewer than 800 living mountain gorillas, each individual is critically important to the survival of their species,” said Mike Cranfield, executive director of the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project and a UC Davis wildlife veterinarian. “But mountain gorillas are surrounded by people, and this discovery makes it clear that living in protected national parks is not a barrier to human diseases.”

Humans and gorillas share approximately 98 percent of their DNA. This close genetic relatedness has led to concerns that gorillas may be susceptible to many of the infectious diseases that affect people.

The potential for disease transmission between humans and mountain gorillas (Gorilla beringei beringei) is of particular concern because over the past 100 years, mountain gorillas have come into increasing contact with humans. In fact, the national parks where the gorillas are protected in Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo are surrounded by the densest human populations in continental Africa.

Also, gorilla tourism — while helping the gorillas survive by funding the national parks that shelter them — brings thousands of people from local communities and around the world into contact with mountain gorillas annually.

The veterinarians of the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project, who monitor the health of the gorillas and treat individuals suffering from life-threatening or human-caused trauma and disease, have observed an increase in the frequency and severity of respiratory disease outbreaks in the mountain gorilla population in recent years.

Infectious disease is the second most common cause of death in mountain gorillas (traumatic injury is the first). “The type of infection we see most frequently is respiratory, which can range from mild colds to severe pneumonia,” said co-author Linda Lowenstine, a veterinary pathologist with the UC Davis Mountain Gorilla One Health Program who has studied gorilla diseases for more than 25 years.

Mountain Gorilla (Gorilla beringei beringei) i...

Mountain Gorilla (Gorilla beringei beringei) in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park near the town of Kisoro, Uganda (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The two gorillas described in the new study were members of the Hirwa group living in Rwanda. In 2008 and 2009, this group experienced outbreaks of respiratory disease, with various amounts of coughing, eye and nose discharge, and lethargy. In the 2009 outbreak, the Hirwa group consisted of 12 animals: one adult male, six adult females, three juveniles and two infants. All but one were sick. Two died: an adult female and a newborn infant.

Tissue analyses showed the biochemical signature of an RNA virus called human metapneumovirus (HMPV) infecting both animals that had died. While the adult female gorilla ultimately died as a result of a secondary bacterial pneumonia infection, HMPV infection likely predisposed her to pneumonia. HMPV was also found in the infant gorilla, which was born to a female gorilla that showed symptoms of respiratory disease.

The study’s UC Davis authors are Cranfield, Lowenstine and Kirsten Gilardi, co-director of the UC Davis Wildlife Health Center’s Mountain Gorilla One Health Program. The lead author is Gustavo Palacios, a virologist at the Center for Infection and Immunity at Columbia University in New York. Other authors are from the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project, Columbia University and the Rwanda Development Board.

The research was supported by Google.org; the U.S. National Institutes of Health; the Emerging Pandemic Threats PREDICT program of the U.S. Agency for International Development; and a grant from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.

The study appeared [2011] in the online version of the journal’s April print edition.

About mountain gorillas

With only about 786 individuals left in the world, mountain gorillas are a critically endangered species. Mountain gorillas live in central Africa, with about 480 animals living in the 173-square-mile Virunga Volcanoes Massif, which combines Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Mgahinga National Park in Uganda. The remaining population lives within the boundaries of the 128-square-mile Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda.

About the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project

The Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project, a U.S.-based nonprofit organization, is dedicated to saving mountain gorilla lives. With so few animals left in the world today, the organization believes it is critical to ensure the health and well being of every individual possible. The organization’s international team of veterinarians, the Gorilla Doctors, is the only group providing wild mountain gorillas with direct, hands-on care. The Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project partners with the UC Davis Wildlife Health Center to advance “one-health” strategies for mountain gorilla conservation.  http://www.gorilladoctors.org>.

About the UC Davis Wildlife Health Center

The UC Davis Wildlife Health Center, home of the Mountain Gorilla One Health Program, a center of excellence within the School of Veterinary Medicine, is composed of 13 epidemiologists, disease ecologists and ecosystem health clinicians and their staff working at the cutting edge of pathogen emergence and disease tracking in ecosystems. It benefits from the expertise of 50 other participating UC Davis faculty members from many disciplines who are involved in the discovery and synthesis of information about emerging zoonotic diseases (those transmitted between people and animals) and ecosystem health. Its mission is to balance the needs of people, wildlife and the environment through research, education and service.  http://www.vetmed.ucdavis.edu/whc>.

About UC Davis

For more than 100 years, UC Davis has engaged in teaching, research and public service that matter to California and transform the world.

Located close to the state capital, UC Davis has more than 32,000 students, more than 2,500 faculty and more than 21,000 staff, an annual research budget that exceeds $678 million, a comprehensive health system and 13 specialized research centers. The university offers interdisciplinary graduate study and more than 100 undergraduate majors in four colleges — Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, Biological Sciences, Engineering, and Letters and Science. It also houses six professional schools — Education, Law, Management, Medicine, Veterinary Medicine and the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing.

Additional information:

* One Health program for mountain gorillas <http://www.news.ucdavis.edu/search/news_detail.lasso?id=9055>

* Full text of study <http://www.cdc.gov/eid/content/17/4/711.htm

* Gorilla guardianship of orphans – information on opportunity to support – http://gorilladoctors.org/orphan-guardianship.html

* Baby gorilla holds his dying mother – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-8ctnGKoFrw&NR=1

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About Sandra Bell Kirchman

My passion is for fiction, especially fantasy fiction. I have been writing nearly all my life, since the age of 7 when I produced a 5-page novel called "Angus the Ant" - self-illustrated. Since then, I have written and published a fantasy novel called "Witchcanery," which has won several awards and has met with some acclaim from readers around the world. I've also edited and published an anthology for the writers at my site FantasyFic.com, called "Birth of a Unicorn and Other Stories." Both books are available on Kindle; the latter is also available on Nook. Both books are sold as hard copies at most major online outlets. One of my later ventures was horror stories; surprisingly, since horror stories scare me, I find I have a special affinity for them, especially in flash fiction format (under 1000 or less words). Currently, I am working on two WIPs, one a sequel to "Witchcanery," which several readers have made me promise to write; the other an apocalyptic novel called "The Road to the End of the World." There are several examples of this latter novel in my blog "Fantasyfic," formerly known as "Wizards and Ogres and Elves - Oh My!" Fantasyfic is on hold temporarily, while I work almost exclusively on Puppy Dog Tales. My other blogs keep me hopping. One is a roundup of news and some fun pieces from around the world. It is listed under the name of "News, Views, and Gurus." The current blog is my pet favorite, if you'll pardon the expression. I'm an avid pet parent and animal lover. My three little Shih-Tzus are the joys of my life...and so is my husband, but I don't write about him. Anyhow, my blog "Puppy Dog Tales" is a work of love, featuring my doggies and other pets around the world. I'm a devoted advocate of animal rights and especially backing the cause of animal rescue shelters. My wonderful husband and I live in a very small town in southeastern Saskatchewan on the south side in a rustic, cedar-sided home. Our property is almost a whole acre, and is gracious and pretty (which is not easy to be in one package). All five of us are happy here.

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