Deadly new Ebola-like virus that lives in African monkeys is ‘poised for spillover’ into humans and could cause next pandemic, study warns
- The virus most commonly found in monkeys is able to latch onto human cells
- The Ebola-like virus was first sequenced in monkeys in the 1960s
- It causes internal bleeding, fever, and sometimes death
Scientists fear they’ve found the next big pandemic threat — a virus that lives in African monkeys.
Simian hemorrhagic fever virus (SHFV) causes devastating Ebola-like symptoms including internal bleeding and kills virtually every primate it infects.
The virus hijacks the immune system, disabling key defense mechanisms and breaking the body down cell by cell.
No cases have been detected in humans yet but it is ‘poised for a spillover’, according to US researchers.
By developing tests and monitoring the virus now ‘the global health community could potentially avoid another pandemic’, they said.
Scientists fear they’ve found the next big pandemic threat — a virus that lives in monkeys in Africa. It is similar to the Ebola virus (shown in stock image)
Experts at the University of Colorado Boulder are raising the alarm due to SHFV’s ‘compatibility… with humans’. In a lab study, they found virus is able to latch on to a human receptor with ease and make copies of itself
Experts at the University of Colorado Boulder are raising the alarm due to SHFV’s ‘compatibility… with humans’.
In a lab study, they found virus is able to latch on to a human receptor with ease and make copies of itself.
Senior author of the study Dr Sara Sawyer said: ‘This animal virus has figured out how to gain access to human cells, multiply itself, and escape some of the important immune mechanisms we would expect to protect us from an animal virus.
‘That’s pretty rare. We should be paying attention to it.’
In macaque monkeys, SHFV causes fever, fluid retention in the body’s tissue, anorexia, and hemorrhaging. The disease is almost always fatal within about two weeks.
It appears to attack immune cells the same way as HIV, the precursor to which originated in a type of chimpanzee in Africa.
The virus was first sequences in macaque monkeys in US and Russian labs in 1964
Reservoirs for the family of viruses that includes SHFV
What is simian hemorrhagic fever virus (SHFV)?
SHFV is a highly pathogenic virus commonly found in non-human primates
It causes severe fever and internal bleeding and there is no cure
The first outbreaks were in the USSR and a US-based NIH lab in the 1960s
Since then, the Ebola-like virus has been detected in several types of primates including patas monkeys, vervet monkeys, and baboons
Experts fear that the virus could spill over from non-human primates to human cells, potentially causing a major public health issue
The symptoms in humans are expected to mirror those of Ebola: fever, vomiting, organ failure, and internal bleeding
No cases of the virus have been detected in humans, but a novel virus that spreads easily could cause a new pandemic
The Covid-19 pandemic was instigated by a novel virus that the human immune system did not recognize.
Author Professor Cody Warren, said: ‘The similarities are profound between this virus and the simian viruses that gave rise to the HIV pandemic.’
He added: ‘Just because we haven’t diagnosed a human arterivirus infection yet doesn’t mean that no human has been exposed. We haven’t been looking.’
The researchers focused their work on a family of viruses called arteriviruses that typically circulate among pigs and horses but are not studied enough in non-human primates.
They zeroed in on simian hemorrhagic fever virus (SHFV), a type of arterivirus which causes a lethal disease similar to Ebola virus disease.
It was sequenced in the 1964 after simultaneous outbreaks in US and Soviet Russian labs, likely due to introduction of captive infected African apes.
It has caused deadly outbreaks in captive macaque monkey colonies since the early 1960s.
In the last decade, several scientists have been hunting for simian arteriviruses in nature.
A broad range of African monkeys carry high viral loads of arteriviruses, often without symptoms.
Researchers have yet to determine what the natural host species is for SHFV
No human infections have been detected yet, according to the report published Friday in the science journal Cell.
The pathogen’s ability to multiply rapidly in the body has echoes of the coronavirus.
Before winter 2019, SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, had never been detected in humans.
It was a novel virus believed to have jumped from bats to an intermediary animal before spilling over to humans.
The never-before-seen virus ravaged people’s inexperienced immune systems and spread unabated for months.
The same is possible for another highly contagious novel virus.
‘COVID is just the latest in a long string of spillover events from animals to humans, some of which have erupted into global catastrophes,’ Dr Sawyer said.
Covid’s ability to spread so easily among humans without ever being detected before led many high profile scientists to question whether it was the result of an accidental leak from a virology institute in the city at the epicentre of the Covid pandemic, Wuhan.