Parallels to HIV: The Possibility Of A New Virus Spillover To Humans


It has only been a few years since the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus and the surge of the monkeypox virus, which have significantly affected all aspects of human lives globally. Some areas are still experiencing the impacts of the virus and haven’t been able to recover yet, both financially and emotionally. However, researchers of a recent University of Colorado Boulder study published in the journal Cell warn people to stay vigilant as another monkey virus could soon be poised to infect humans.

The researchers claim that the aforementioned unidentified virus family is already widespread in wild African primates and is known to induce lethal Ebola-like symptoms in some monkeys. Although these arteriviruses are already regarded as a severe threat to macaque monkeys, there haven’t been any recorded human infections up to this point. And if a possible spillover happens, it is unknown what effect the virus would have on people.

The study primarily investigates arteriviruses, which are widespread in pigs and horses but poorly understood in nonhuman primates. The study focused on the simian hemorrhagic fever virus (SHFV), which has caused deadly outbreaks in captive macaque colonies since the 1960s and causes a fatal illness similar to that produced by the Ebola virus.

Another Monkey Virus Poised To Infect Humans

Animals worldwide are infected with thousands of different viruses, most of which show no symptoms. The Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) in 2012, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV) in 2003, and SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) in 2020 are just some of the many examples of how the growing number of viruses have spilled over to humans in recent decades, wreaking havoc on naive immune systems with no experience fighting them off.

Through laboratory procedures and tissue samples from wildlife from around the world, the latest study researchers have long been examining which animal viruses may be more likely to infect people.

They concentrated on arteriviruses for their present work, especially the simian hemorrhagic fever virus (SHFV), which is responsible for a fatal illness caused by the Ebola virus.

According to the study, a molecule or receptor called CD163 is crucial to the biology of simian arteriviruses and enables the virus to enter target cells and infect them. The researchers were also surprised to discover that the virus was also highly skilled at latching on to the human form of CD163, hacking into human cells, and quickly replicating itself from a thorough series of lab studies.

Simian arteriviruses attack immune cells similar to human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV), distressing vital defense mechanisms and establishing a long-lasting presence in the body.

The study’s findings raise questions about global health and pandemic preparedness. All cellular proteins necessary for SHFV replication are functional in human cells, and the human CD163 ortholog is compatible with SHFV entry into human cells.

Since many of the simian arteriviruses found in monkeys have the same genetic structure and substantial sequence homology, it is likely that they all have a similar entrance mechanism and that many of them may exploit human CD163.

Therefore, it is essential to conduct more research on other simian arterivirus variations to validate their potential to infect humans, develop blood tests for them, and monitor human populations that are in close contact with animal carriers.

Many African monkey species already have significant viral loads of different arteriviruses, frequently without symptoms, and certain species are known to scratch or bite humans.

According to the experts, the fact that we haven’t yet identified a human arterivirus infection doesn’t mean that no one has been exposed.

Numerous viruses, including HIV and the more recent COVID-19 virus, have shown how the lack of testing and therapies for these viruses can transform viral spillovers from animals to humans into catastrophic worldwide occurrences. The researcher believes that by spreading knowledge about the viruses being investigated in the present, we can get ahead of this and be ready to respond rapidly if human illnesses arise.

Journal Reference

Warren, C. J., Yu, S., Peters, D. K., Barbachano-Guerrero, A., Yang, Q., Burris, B. L., Worwa, G., Huang, I.-C., Wilkerson, G. K., Goldberg, T. L., Kuhn, J. H., & Sawyer, S. L. (2022). Primate hemorrhagic fever-causing arteriviruses are poised for spillover to humans. Cell. 

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