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Human cold virus likely kills chimpanzees in Uganda: study

SAN FRANCISCO (Xinhua) -- A virus that makes humans suffer colds is attributed to the death of chimpanzees in Uganda that were killed by a respiratory disease, a U.S. study published Wednesday showed.

Researchers from the U.S. University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW) did field studies and were surprised to find that a human “common cold” virus known as rhinovirus C had triggered an outbreak of a respiratory disease in a community of wild chimpanzees in Uganda’s Kibale National Park, which killed healthy chimpanzees.

“It was completely unknown that rhinovirus C could infect anything other than humans,” said Tony Goldberg, a professor of the UW School of Veterinary Medicine and one of the senior authors of the study, which was published in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases on Wednesday.

Goldberg, who has worked in Uganda for years tracking viruses in animals, cited the death of a two-year-old chimp called Betty as an example, which was killed by the human virus in an outbreak in February 2013 that hit most of the chimpanzees in the community.

The sweeping epidemic killed five of the 56 chimpanzees, including Betty, in the community, with the oldest adult animal that fell victim being up to 57 years old, according to the study.

It said the virus was communicated to the apes through human activities, including human settlement expanding to ape habitats, tourism and research, as well as when apes left the forests for foods.

Rhinovirus C, which has been affecting humans for several thousand years, was rarely found in chimpanzees in the wild in the past. It can cause severe symptoms in people, especially children. 

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