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Virus that killed UCD monkeys may have sickened researcher

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October 27, 2010 | Leave Comment

The outbreak took place between May and August of 2009 at the California National Primate Research Center. No people or monkeys have fallen sick since, according to the centers associate director, Nick Lerche. The scientist, who suffered flu-like symptoms, made a full recovery.

Theres no risk to the general population and probably not to our employees at this point, Lerche said Tuesday. Its an interesting scientific finding, on the one hand, but I understand thats not what the public is concerned about.

Lead investigator Charles Chiu told Bloomberg News that while there was very strong evidence to suggest a cross-species transmission event happened there is no evidence, so far, that the disease can be transmitted between humans.

I dont think people should be worried about this right now. Its more of a worry to public health officials monitoring these new viruses that have the potential for causing outbreaks, Chiu said.

Chiu, an assistant professor of laboratory medicine and medicine/infectious diseases at UC San Francisco, announced his findings at an annual meeting Friday in Vancouver of the Infectious Disease Society of America.

The virus affected a colony of 76 titis, a small South American species used in behavioral research, that are housed indoors at the Primate Center. Of those, 23 fell ill.

During that period, a center employee who works with the colony suffered a dry cough, fever and aches and pains, and recovered in about two weeks without seeking medical attention, Lerche said. The employee, whom UCD did not identify, then returned to work.

She and 13 others were tested for disease antibodies about a month to six weeks after she became ill, but she was the only human to test positive.

Lerche said the sickened monkeys received intensive veterinary care, including antibiotics, antiviral drugs, intravenous fluids, oxygen therapy and tube feedings.

Despite all that, a lot of these animals got progressively worse, he said.

The cause of the illnesses, Chiu said, is a form of adenovirus, a group responsible for the common cold and pneumonia as well as gastrointestinal illnesses.

The mystery for investigators now lies in where the virus came from. No new animals have been added to the colony of titis for at least a decade, Lerche said.

About 95 percent of the more than 5,000 primates housed at the center are rhesus monkeys. About 3,000 live in 24 half-acre outdoor corrals.

Its possible, too, that it was introduced by a human, but theres no evidence yet that was the case, Lerche said.

UCSF and state public health officials are also looking into whether the virus is circulating among the general population.

As far as additional human cases from monkeys, I think were out of the woods, Lerche said.

The last known case of a disease jumping from monkeys to a human at the center came in the 1970s, when a researcher exposed to the herpes simian B virus fell ill with a serious neurologic disease but later recovered, Lerche said.

Surrounded by high fences with 24-hour surveillance, the Primate Center is on about 300 acres 2 miles west of UCDs main campus. It is one of eight across the country in the National Primary Research Centers Program.

With about 400 employees, it operates on a federally funded budget of about $10 million annually and the $24 million per year in outside funding generated by its researchers.

It is the new home of a $5 million, 5,000-square-foot Biosafety Level 3 virology and immunology laboratory building, which will be used for research on AIDS vaccines, tuberculosis vaccines and malaria. A new 20,000-square-foot respiratory diseases center is due to open there in 2013.

Reach Cory Golden at cgolden@davisenterprise.net or (530) 747-8046. Track him at http://twitter.com/cory_golden

Author: By Cory Golden
Pub Date: Enterprise staff writer
Source: A never-before-identified virus that killed 23 UC Davis research monkeys may have jumped to a scientist during a disease outbreak last year.

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