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Transmission of diseases from humans to apes: why extra vigilance is now needed


With the current outbreak of the coronavirus disease, COVID-19, global attention has been drawn to the significant health risks posed by eating wild animals. As the number of infections from the coronavirus exploded in China, the outbreak was linked to a live animal and seafood market in Jianghan District, Wuhan. The specific animal source and mode of initial transmission are not yet known.

The consumption of wild meat has been the root cause of several epidemics stemming from animal sources in recent history. The current outbreak is the sixth one linked to bats in the past 26 years. Comparative genomic analyses have shown that the SARS-CoV-2 virus, that causes COVID-19, is the result of a recombination between two different viruses, one close to a SARS-CoV-2 virus isolated from bats and the other closer to a virus present in pangolins; a chimera between two pre-existing viruses.

Viruses usually don’t make their original hosts sick. This is because the two have evolved together and the host species has had time to build up resistance. But when viruses jump to a new host, they frequently cause more severely contagious diseases. MORE

Header image: Great apes ecotourism in Rwanda. Credit: Arend de Haas/ACF.

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