A new strain of adenovirus that proved deadly among a colony of monkeys at a California research center reportedly has crossed species, infecting a researcher who cared for the monkeys and 2 of the researcher’s family members.
Adenoviruses cause a variety of illnesses such as upper respiratory infections (including potentially fatal pneumonia), conjunctivitis, hepatitis, and diarrhea in humans, in monkeys, and in other animals. But conventional wisdom always had been that adenoviruses did not jump from 1 species to another.
An outbreak that began in May 2009 at the California National Primate Research Center in Davis now trumps conventional wisdom. According to findings published online today in PLoS Pathogens, 23 of 68 New World titi monkeys housed in the same area became infected, and 19 of the 23 died of infection-related pneumonia and hepatitis.
About the same time as the monkeys became ill, a researcher who cared for them daily developed fever, chills, headache, sore throat, dry cough, and a burning sensation in the lungs. Two family members who had no contact with the monkey colony developed flu-like symptoms about 1 or 2 weeks later. The researcher had a history of recurring upper respiratory infections and did not think the symptoms were related to the adenovirus outbreak among the monkeys. All 3 recovered without seeking medical care.
Genetic analyses conducted during the outbreak investigation showed that the researcher and the 2 family members who became ill had antibodies to the same adenovirus, called TMAdV, that had infected the monkeys. The analyses also showed that TMAdV is not genetically similar to known strains of adenovirus and therefore is considered a new strain.
The investigators do not know whether the source of TMAdV is humans, monkeys, or another species. They wrote that their discovery “highlights the need to monitor adenoviruses closely for outbreak or even pandemic potential.”