News / Africa

Searching for Animal Disease Transmission

Apes in the Sangha Tri-National Protected Area. (Thomas Breeuer / WCS)
Apes in the Sangha Tri-National Protected Area. (Thomas Breeuer / WCS)

Multimedia

Audio
  • Listen to De Capua report on animal disease transmission

Joe DeCapua
Researchers are not waiting for the next new disease to emerge. They’re studying our near and distant primate relatives to try to prevent future epidemics.

HIV/AIDS is a well-known zoonotic disease, an illness transmitted from animals to humans. The disease – linked to African primates - has killed tens of millions and more than 30 million people are now living with the disease.

Dr. Natalie Cooper said there may be many more diseases ready to jump from animals to humans. The Trinity College Dublin assistant professor and her colleagues are focusing their research on primates.

“Investigating diseases in primates gives us a really good model of the kinds of diseases which we might expect to see in humans. Because things which are common in these primate populations are also the kind of things which end up getting passed into human populations eventually, or they’re the kind of things that we already share with primates,” she said.

There are a number of things that need to happen before an animal disease spreads among humans.

“First of all you have to contact that disease somehow. So maybe you bump into an animal that sneezes on you for example. And that’s got to happen first. But then there’s a lot of stuff that happens within the human body. So that disease then has to get through your immune system. It has to get into your cells and actually start causing some disease symptoms. And so it’s much easier for these diseases, if they’re kind of adapted to this primate model system, to come into another primate, a human,” she said.

Researchers expected to find that humans would share diseases with primates with whom they’re mostly closely related. Cooper says immune systems are likely to be similar in primates that share a common ancestor.

“It wasn’t that long ago that humans and chimpanzees had this common ancestor. So we expect that we have these similar traits in our biology, which might make it easy for us to catch the same kinds of diseases. So we were expecting – and all the previous research has suggested – that we’d share more with our very close relatives, the great apes. So this would be gorillas, chimpanzees and orangutans than we would with other species of primates,” she said.

Researchers did in fact confirm that we do share many diseases with the great apes. But Cooper said they they also found something unexpected.

“What’s more surprising is that things like old-world monkeys and lemurs even – so lemurs are the very primitive kinds of monkeys that you find on Madagascar – we share an ancestor with them something like a hundred million years ago, [a] really, really long time ago. So we really weren’t expecting to see that much sharing there,” she said.

So the span of a hundred million years since we had a common ancestor does not necessarily protect us from catching a virus from a lemur. By the way, we also share diseases with macaques and baboons.

Cooper said there are massive gaps in knowledge about various species of monkey. She said once those gaps are filled, scientists can determine how much of a risk monkey diseases pose to humans. That could lead to vaccines to prevent outbreaks and epidemics.

“It’s a hugely daunting task, and obviously primates are only just the first step here. So there are other kinds of animals, which we actually end up having a lot more contact with. So domesticated animals, cats and dogs in particular - and then things like rats and mice, which we have a lot of contact with in domestic situations. And we think that these species are very, very likely to transfer diseases across to us,” she said.

As the global population grows, people are spreading into new areas. As they do, Cooper said, they’re encountering new species of animals and possibly new diseases as well.

You May Like

Turkey's Erdogan: Women Not Equal to Men

Speaking at conference in Istanbul, President Erdogan says Islam has defined a position for women: motherhood More

Ahead of SAARC Summit, Subdued Expectations

Some regional analysts say distrust between Pakistani, Indian officials has slowed SAARC's progress over the year More

Philippines Leery of Development on Reef Reclamation in S. China Sea

Chinese land reclamation projects in area have been ongoing for years, but new satellite imagery reportedly shows China’s massive construction project More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Aung San Suu Kyi: Myanmar Opposition to Keep Pushing for Constitutional Changei
X
November 24, 2014 10:09 PM
Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi says she and her supporters will continue pushing to amend a constitutional clause that bars her from running for president next year. VOA's Than Lwin Htun reports from the capital Naypyitaw in this report narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Aung San Suu Kyi: Myanmar Opposition to Keep Pushing for Constitutional Change

Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi says she and her supporters will continue pushing to amend a constitutional clause that bars her from running for president next year. VOA's Than Lwin Htun reports from the capital Naypyitaw in this report narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Mali Attempts to Shut Down Ebola Transmission Chain

Senegal and Nigeria were able to stop small Ebola outbreaks by closely monitoring those who had contact with the sick person and quickly isolating anyone with symptoms. Mali is now scrambling to do the same. VOA’s Anne Look reports from Mali on what the country is doing to shut down the chain of transmission.
Video

Video Ukraine Marks Anniversary of Deadly 1930s Famine

During a commemoration for millions who died of starvation in Ukraine in the early 1930s, President Petro Poroshenko lashed out at Soviet-era totalitarianism for causing the deaths and accused today’s Russian-backed rebels in the east of using similar tactics. VOA’s Daniel Shearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests at a Crossroads

New public opinion polls in Hong Kong indicate declining support for pro-democracy demonstrations after weeks of street protests. VOA’s Bill Ide in Guangzhou and Pros Laput in Hong Kong spoke with protesters and observers about whether demonstrators have been too aggressive in pushing for change.
Video

Video US Immigration Relief Imminent for Mixed-Status Families

Tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants in the Washington, D.C., area may benefit from a controversial presidential order announced this week. It's not a path to citizenship, as some activists hoped. But it will allow more immigrants who arrived as children or who have citizen children, to avoid deportation and work legally. VOA's Victoria Macchi talks with one young man who benefited from an earlier presidential order, and whose parents may now benefit after years of living in fear.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.
Video

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

It has been another tense week on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang threatened to again test nuclear weapons while the U.S. and South Korean forces held joint military exercises in a show of force. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from the Kunsan Air Base in South Korea.
Video

Video Mama Sarah Obama Honored at UN Women’s Entrepreneurship Day

President Barack Obama's step-grandmother is in the United States to raise money to build a $12 million school and hospital center in Kogelo, Kenya, the birthplace of the president's father, Barack Obama, Sr. She was honored for her decades of work to aid poor Kenyans at a Women's Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid