Trace of AIDS-Like Virus Reported Found in Isolated Amazon Indians
American and Brazilian researchers have found traces of an AIDS-like virus among Indians in the Amazon jungle that could provide clues to the origin of the deadly disease.
About 100 Indians have shown antibodies to the virus, which they apparently caught from infected monkeys, researchers said by telephone from the Amazon port of Belem.
The discovery could support theories that acquired immune deficiency syndrome spread to humans from monkeys and that it existed in remote populations for years before spreading to the rest of the world.
The unnamed virus appears to be a close relative of HIV-1 and HIV-2, the two viruses that cause acquired immune deficiency syndrome, responsible for the deaths of thousands of people worldwide, the researchers said.
“The discovery adds some new components (to AIDS studies), including a geographic component because it shows traces of an HIV-related retrovirus that is native to America,” said Francis Black, an epidemiologist from Yale University.
Previous studies had pointed to Africa as the origin of AIDS.
Scientists are still unsure whether the Amazon virus has any effects on human health or even whether it can be passed from person to person.
Black and a team of scientists from Brazil’s University of Para stumbled upon it early this year as they conducted tests on blood samples from 2,500 Indians from 20 tribes as part of studies on infectious diseases among aborigines.
They found that Indians from isolated jungle settlements with virtually no contact with the outside world showed antibodies in their blood to a host of diseases, ranging from syphilis to measles and including AIDS.
More precise testing, however, showed the “AIDS” antibodies were for neither HIV-1 nor HIV-2 but for some related, hitherto unknown virus, Black said.
Researchers have found similar antibodies in Amazon monkeys, indicating that the Indians could have caught the virus by eating or handling infected animals.
“If we can prove that these monkeys and humans have the identical antibodies, then it could contribute to the idea that AIDS spread from monkeys to humans,” said Sidney Batista dos Santos, a biologist at the University of Para and one of the chief researchers.