Frequent Simian Foamy Virus Infection in Persons Occupationally Exposed to Nonhuman Primates

William M. Switzer, Vinod Bhullar, Vedapuri Shanmugam, Mian Er Cong, Bharat Parekh, Nicholas W. Lerche, Jo Ann L. Yee, John J. Ely, Roumiana Boneva, Louisa E. Chapman, Thomas M. Folks, Walid Heneine

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183 Scopus citations


The recognition that AIDS originated as a zoonosis heightens public health concerns associated with human infection by simian retroviruses endemic in nonhuman primates (NHPs). These retroviruses include simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV), simian T-cell lymphotropic virus (STLV), simian type D retrovirus (SRV), and simian foamy virus (SFV). Although occasional infection with SIV, SRV, or SFV in persons occupationally exposed to NHPs has been reported, the characteristics and significance of these zoonotic infections are not fully defined. Surveillance for simian retroviruses at three research centers and two zoos identified no SIV, SRV, or STLV infection in 187 participants. However, 10 of 187 persons (5.3%) tested positive for SFV antibodies by Western blot (WB) analysis. Eight of the 10 were males, and 3 of the 10 worked at zoos. SFV integrase gene (int) and gag sequences were PCR amplified from the peripheral blood lymphocytes available from 9 of the 10 persons. Phylogenetic analysis showed SFV infection originating from chimpanzees (n = 8) and baboons (n = 1). SFV seropositivity for periods of 8 to 26 years (median, 22 years) was documented for six workers for whom archived serum samples were available, demonstrating long-standing SFV infection. All 10 persons reported general good health, and secondary transmission of SFV was not observed in three wives available for WB and PCR testing. Additional phylogenetic analysis of int and gag sequences provided the first direct evidence identifying the source chimpanzees of the SFV infection in two workers. This study documents more frequent infection with SFV than with other simian retroviruses in persons working with NHPs and provides important information on the natural history and species origin of these infections. Our data highlight the importance of studies to better define the public health implications of zoonotic SFV infections.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2780-2789
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of virology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Mar 2004
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Insect Science
  • Virology
  • Microbiology
  • Immunology


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