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Students from the RVC have been looking at zoonotic diseases from another angle in research published in scientific journal Parasites and Vectors.

Instead of looking at the risks of humans catching diseases from animals, scientists have looked at how humans have impacted on a critically endangered species – in this case, the mountain gorilla.

Isolated species

According to researchers, the gorillas – which live in the two isolated regions of the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (BINP) in Uganda and the Virunga Mountains, bounded by Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo – are threatened by the increased risk of disease transmission from humans and livestock, meaning precautions are required to avoid interspecies transmission of “novel” pathogens among several gorilla groups.

In one result of the BINP gorillas being habituated to humans to promote wildlife tourism and behavioural research in 1993, the primates have also been venturing outside protected regions to forage.

Earlier research

With previous surveys of the gorillas detecting specific parasites, including Cryptosporidium, a team of RVC students carried out a molecular study of single-celled parasites infecting mountain gorillas, cattle, goats and humans from 15 sites in and around the BINP.

Various pathogens were detected, including low levels of Cryptosporidium parvum in gorillas and goats, and Giardia duodenalis in humans and cattle.

While previous studies have suggested these pathogens are zoonotic, the data found no evidence for interspecies parasite transmission cycles. It also suggested the stringent hygiene policies employed by those who interact with the gorillas are, as they stand, effective.

More to be done

The RVC therefore said it recommended further work be carried out to:

  1. better understand these hygiene systems
  2. explore the discrepancies between published studies

RVC parasite geneticist Damer Blake said: “Expanding this work to assess the flow of bacterial and viral pathogens will be valuable, and help enhance welfare practices, as well as hygiene policies, employed by those who interact with animals in a professional capacity.”

Source: Vet times