Scientists Find HIV's 'Missing Link' in Sick Chimps
Scientist working at Gombe Nationals Park in Tanzania think they have found the HIV 'missing link' in sick chimps. Chimpanzees get a wasting disease similar to human HIV, called simian immunodeficiency disease caused by the SIV virus. They have analyzed the virus in post mortems of chimps and found that the virus is very similar to that which was first identified in humans.
The nine-year study of chimps in their natural habitat at Gombe National Park in Tanzania found chimps infected with SIV had a death rate 10 to 16 times as high as uninfected chimps. And postmortems of infected chimps showed unusually low T cell counts that are just like the levels found in humans with AIDS, said Hahn.
And when scientists looked at the strain infecting the chimps, they found that it was a close relative of the virus that first infected humans.
Chimpanzees are our closest genetic relatives. They can spread the SIV through sexual activity and by eating infected monkeys. Monkeys and apes may carry the virus but do not get sick from it.
While we may never know for sure how the SIV crossed the species barrier to humans, we have had ample evidence that viruses that make animals sick can jump to humans. The HIV may be just one in a long list of animal to human viruses. Examples: avian flu, swine flu, bubonic plague, sleeping sickness, West Nile virus.