Mountain gorillas are genetically one of our closest relatives. It has been found that they can harbor a virus that is similar to the Epstein-Barr virus, which causes mononucleosis in people. These findings, published in Scientific Reports, may help people affected by Epstein-Barr and could aid in the conservation of mountain gorillas, which are critically endangered.
The virus detected by the researchers is a herpes virus, as is Epstein-Barr, also known as human herpesvirus 4. Globally, it infects over 90 percent of people - although it does not usually cause serious health issues. In people with compromised immunity, however, it can lead to some kinds of cancer.
After analyzing gorilla saliva left on leaves in Rwanda and Uganda, the scientists discovered this version of the herpes virus. It is not a serious threat to the gorillas and doesn't usually cause illness. It can, however, be detrimental to gorilla infants, just like Epstein-Barr is a threat to human infants with HIV.
"Viruses can behave similarly in different species," said lead author Tierra Smiley Evans, a postdoctoral researcher in Veterinary Medicine. "Learning about how gorillas react to this virus in their natural setting may help us have a better understanding of how Epstein-Barr virus affects human infants," Smiley Evans concluded.