Jonna A. K. Mazet , 1 , Brooke N. Genovese 1 , Laurie A. Harris 1 , Michael Cranfield 1 , 2 , Jean Bosco Noheri 3 , Jean Felix Kinani 6 , Dawn Zimmerman 5 , Methode Bahizi 3 , Antoine Mudakikwa 4 , Tracey Goldstein 1 , Kirsten V. K. Gilardi 1 , 2
20 December 2020
Respiratory illness (RI) accounts for a large proportion of mortalities in mountain gorillas ( Gorilla beringei beringei), and fatal outbreaks, including disease caused by human metapneumovirus (HMPV) infections, have heightened concern about the risk of human pathogen transmission to this endangered species, which is not only critically important to the biodiversity of its ecosystem but also to the economies of the surrounding human communities. Our goal was to conduct a molecular epidemiologic study to detect the presence of HRSV and HMPV in fecal samples from wild human-habituated free-ranging mountain gorillas in Rwanda and to evaluate the role of these viruses in RI outbreaks. Fecal samples were collected from gorillas with clinical signs of RI between June 2012 and February 2013 and tested by real-time and conventional polymerase chain reaction (PCR) assays; comparison fecal samples were obtained from gorillas without clinical signs of RI sampled during the 2010 Virunga gorilla population census. PCR assays detected HMPV and HRSV first in spiked samples; subsequently, HRSV-A, the worldwide-circulating ON1 genotype, was detected in 12 of 20 mountain gorilla fecal samples collected from gorillas with RI during outbreaks, but not in samples from animals without respiratory illness. Our findings confirmed that pathogenic human respiratory viruses are transmitted to gorillas and that they are repeatedly introduced into mountain gorilla populations from people, attesting to the need for stringent biosecurity measures for the protection of gorilla health.