Dr. Hahn and others released a report last week showing that chimpanzees can get an AIDS-like illness.
Scientists were in consensus for years that chimpanzees and monkeys could get a disease similar to HIV — simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV). In fact, HIV-1, which causes AIDS, was transmitted to humans from chimpanzees. However, no follow-up illness like AIDS was ever identified. Scientists established that other animals could not get anything similar to AIDS. Dr. Hahn and others, however, have discovered that chimpanzees in Gombe Stream National Park do develop an illness similar to AIDS from SIV infection.
Dr. Hahn and others studied these chimps for over nine years. They identified that in as many as 41% of adults and 100% of infants infected individuals have an increased risk of mortality. Birth rates for infected chimps were also lower. Of course, Dr. Hahn says, “we need longer-term follow-up to determine what proportion of infected animals develop an AIDS-like illness.”
Given the close relationship between humans and chimps, it was not out of the question that chimps could get a similar illness. According to Hahn, “chimps are not monkeys. Chimpanzees and humans are very similar genetically, so perhaps we should not be surprised that these closely related viruses cause disease in both hosts.” Dr. Hahn and the other researchers assumed what others assumed, but knew it wasn’t out of the question and continued research on the topic. The results are transformative.
The benefit for humans from this research is that researchers in the future may be able to identify ways of better dealing with HIV infection and AIDS in humans.
Image credit 1: doug88888 via flickr under a Creative Commons license
Image credit 2: cjette via flickr under a Creative Commons license
Image credit 3: RedEyedRex via flickr under a Creative Commons license