Scientists in Brazil Have Detected Zika in Monkeys

May 2, 2016 | Erica Tennenhouse

Wild capuchin monkey (Cebus Capucinus) in Costa Rica
Photo credit: David M. Jensen/Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0) Image has been cropped

The monkeys were found in municipalities with known cases of microcephaly

Marmosets and capuchin monkeys captured across one northeastern state in Brazil have tested positive for Zika virus. This is the first time that scientists have detected the virus in New World primates. Researchers from Brazil recently reported their findings in an article released ahead of print.

The findings indicate that primates may act as reservoir hosts for the virus in the Americas, with transmission likely to occur via infected mosquitoes. Monkeys in Africa have already been shown to harbor the virus. In fact, Zika was first identified in a rhesus monkey in the Zika Forest of Uganda in 1947.

SEE ALSO: Beyond Zika: 5 Other Viruses That Are Making Scientists Nervous

The first known human cases of Zika occurred five years later in Uganda and the United Republic of Tanzania. But it wasn’t until last year that Brazil started reporting infections. Since then, the number of cases has exploded to over 1 million. Though the cases have been mild, the immense concern over Zika revolves around its recent association with microcephaly—a birth defect characterized by an abnormally small head and incomplete brain development.

As the authors note, the Zika-carrying monkeys were sampled from municipalities in Brazil in which microcephaly cases have occurred.

Yellow fever was detected in New World monkeys in 1944. It is believed that its persistence in humans can be attributed to that reservoir, as the virus can maintain itself in monkey populations even in the absence of humans. The new findings suggest that Zika could follow a similar course.

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