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HIV reservoir in chimps

A report has revealed that chimpanzees in Cameroon are the "natural reservoir" for the AIDS virus.

india Updated: Jun 04, 2006 15:39 IST

Scientists have long assumed people contracted HIV from apes, but a report has revealed that chimpanzees in Cameroon are the "natural reservoir" for the AIDS virus.

Twenty-five years after HIV was discovered, the magazine Science published a study of a sub-species of Pan troglodytes troglodytes - chimpanzees to most of us - who carry the virus SIVcpz, a Simian Immunodeficiency Virus.

It is similar to VIH-1, which is responsible for the AIDS pandemic, according to British, French and US scientists who participated in the study published yesterday.                                                                                            

SIV had previously been found only in captive chimpanzees, so researchers took to the jungles of Cameroon, to study the droppings of these wild animals and found SIVcpz in chimp communities.

The virus most likely infected hunters who ate the meat 25 or more years ago.

The team, composed of scientists from the US University of Alabama, Montpellier in France and Nottingham in Britain said that their findings, along with other studies, "show for the first time a clear picture of the origin of HIV-1 and the seeds of the AIDS pandemic."

According to scientists, "It is quite possible that still other SIVcpz lineages exist that could pose risks for human infection and prove problematic for HIV diagnostics and vaccines."

Yet to be understood is how the virus made its way from its "natural reservoir," to Kinshasa, where the virus first appeared, 1,000 kilometres away.