A little-known family of viruses already endemic to wild African primates that cause deadly symptoms can infect humans, according to new research from scientists at the University of Colorado. The scientists’ work was published in the journal Cell.
For 15 years, the research team used laboratory methods and tissue samples from wild animals from around the world to find out which viruses tend to transmit to humans.
In recent years, scientists have focused on arteriviruses, which are common in pigs and horses, as well as non-human primates. They focused in particular on the simian haemorrhagic fever virus (SHFV), which causes a fatal disease similar to that caused by the Ebola virus and has led to fatal outbreaks in captive macaque colonies since the 1960s.
The study showed that the CD163 receptor allows the virus to enter cells. Through a series of laboratory experiments, the scientists found that the virus also clings surprisingly well to CD163 in human cells, enters and rapidly makes copies of itself.
Like HIV and its predecessor, the simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV), simian arteriviruses also appear to attack immune cells, disable key defense mechanisms, and persist in the body for long periods of time.
The authors emphasize that a new pandemic is not inevitable, and scientists should pay more attention to studying animal viruses to be able to resist them if they pass to humans.
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