Chimps lead way to HIV birthplace

6:27pm, June 6, 2006

The global AIDS epidemic originated in chimpanzees living in southeastern Cameroon, a viral analysis confirms.

An international team of scientists analyzed 599 fecal specimens from 10 forest sites in Cameroon and found evidence of simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV), the direct precursor of the AIDS virus, HIV-1.

In 1999, Beatrice Hahn of the University of Alabama at Birmingham detected SIV in caged chimpanzees from western Africa (SN: 2/6/99, p. 84) but didn't pinpoint the virus' wild habitat. Her group's new study, which will be published in the July 28 Science, finally does that.

"We said west-central Africa, but that's pretty big," says Hahn. Her group has since located the cradle of the pandemic strain of HIV-1, which causes more than 99 percent of AIDS cases.

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