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Retrovirology. 2010 Dec 14;7:105. doi: 10.1186/1742-4690-7-105.

Two distinct variants of simian foamy virus in naturally infected mandrills (Mandrillus sphinx) and cross-species transmission to humans.

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Unité de Rétrovirologie, Centre International de Recherches Médicales de Franceville, Franceville, Gabon.



Each of the pathogenic human retroviruses (HIV-1/2 and HTLV-1) has a nonhuman primate counterpart, and the presence of these retroviruses in humans results from interspecies transmission. The passage of another simian retrovirus, simian foamy virus (SFV), from apes or monkeys to humans has been reported. Mandrillus sphinx, a monkey species living in central Africa, is naturally infected with SFV. We evaluated the natural history of the virus in a free-ranging colony of mandrills and investigated possible transmission of mandrill SFV to humans.


We studied 84 semi-free-ranging captive mandrills at the Primate Centre of the Centre International de Recherches Médicales de Franceville (Gabon) and 15 wild mandrills caught in various areas of the country. The presence of SFV was also evaluated in 20 people who worked closely with mandrills and other nonhuman primates. SFV infection was determined by specific serological (Western blot) and molecular (nested PCR of the integrase region in the polymerase gene) assays. Seropositivity for SFV was found in 70/84 (83%) captive and 9/15 (60%) wild-caught mandrills and in 2/20 (10%) humans. The 425-bp SFV integrase fragment was detected in peripheral blood DNA from 53 captive and 8 wild-caught mandrills and in two personnel. Sequence and phylogenetic studies demonstrated the presence of two distinct strains of mandrill SFV, one clade including SFVs from mandrills living in the northern part of Gabon and the second consisting of SFV from animals living in the south. One man who had been bitten 10 years earlier by a mandrill and another bitten 22 years earlier by a macaque were found to be SFV infected, both at the Primate Centre. The second man had a sequence close to SFVmac sequences. Comparative sequence analysis of the virus from the first man and from the mandrill showed nearly identical sequences, indicating genetic stability of SFV over time.


Our results show a high prevalence of SFV infection in a semi-free-ranging colony of mandrills, with the presence of two different strains. We also showed transmission of SFV from a mandrill and a macaque to humans.

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