Human virus kills gorillas

Mountain gorillas are an endangered species with less than 800 still alive. When numbers in a population get that low each individual matters to the survival of the species. Concerning news is that for the first time there is evidence that human viruses can kill these threatened primates.

The recent study was done on two gorillas of the Hirwa group living in Rwanda. In 2009 an outbreak of respiratory illness affected twelve gorillas from that group with an adult female and a newborn infant dying as a result.

Tissue analysis of the deceased gorillas showed the genetic signature of a human metapneumovirus had infected both. The adult female died as the result of secondary bacterial pneumonia infection but had likely been predisposed to this by the human virus. The infant gorilla had been born to a mother who had signs of the respiratory disease caused by the human virus.

Humans and gorillas share around 98 per cent of their DNA so it has been suspected that gorillas might be susceptible to diseases that infect people. This research confirms that to be the case.

Vets who treat gorillas showing signs of illness say that there has been an increase in respiratory infections in recent years.

This news is particularly bad when you consider that mountain gorillas are surrounded by humans. The national parks in Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo are surrounded by the densest human populations in Africa.

Additionally, although gorilla generated tourism helps make money to support the gorillas, it also brings thousands of people from around the world into contact with the great apes every year. It seems that if we really care about the gorillas then we might have to keep our distance. As the saying goes, “If you love something, let it go.”

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The WellBeing Team

The WellBeing Team

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