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Do humans and baboons share diseases?

27 January 2012

A new article by RVC researcher, Dr Julian Drewe, focuses on the possibility of disease transmission between humans and city-dwelling non human primates. The article, published in the February 2012 issue of the journal Emerging Infectious Disease, is the result of an international collaboration with researchers in South Africa.

Dr Drewe explains what the research involved: "Disease transmission between humans and wildlife is occurring at an increasing rate, posing a substantial global threat to public health and biodiversity conservation. City-dwelling non-human primates such as macaques in Delhi and baboons in Cape Town are likely to be of particular risk of passing infection to, and gaining infection from, humans. Baboons on the Cape Peninsula in South Africa live in urban, agricultural and tourist areas and consequently come into frequent contact with people. The aim of this study was to ascertain whether human diseases are present in this baboon population.

Baboon raiding dustbin
Image: Baboon raiding a dustbin (photograph supplied by Dr Drewe)

 

Together with South African colleagues at the Universities of Cape Town and Stellenbosch, I sampled 27 baboons from five troops for 10 infections of public health importance. The majority of baboons (56%) tested positive for antibodies reactive or cross-reactive to human viruses and there was some indication that infection levels may be higher in the baboons living in urban estates rather than nearby forests. We conclude that spatial overlap between humans and baboons poses low but potential health risks. The information gained from this study is assisting the development of baboon management plans with the aim of minimising infectious disease risks to both humans and baboons.

An important part of this study was an outreach event which we held in order to discover the public’s concerns and awareness about disease risks from wild baboons. The results of this public engagement event have been used to modify baboon management practices and will influence our future research into infectious disease transmission at the human-wildlife interface".

This research received ethical approval from the Royal Veterinary College Ethics and Welfare Committee: REF URN 2011 1088. The outreach event was funded through a public engagement competition for post doctoral researchers organised by the Royal Veterinary College.

Drewe JA, O’Riain MJ, Beamish E, Currie H, Parsons S. Survey of infections transmissible between baboons and humans, Cape Town, South Africa. Emerg Infect Dis. 2012 Feb. http://dx.doi.org/10.3201/eid1802.111309External Web Site Icon

 


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