Monkeys can acquire Staphylococcus aureus bacteria, also called golden staph, from humans, suggests a new study.
While humans acquired many deadly diseases originally through contact with animals, the new findings show that pathogens can also jump the species barrier to move from humans to animals. The study, published in American Society for Microbiology's Applied and Environmental Microbiology journal showed that green monkeys in the Gambia acquired Staphylococcus aureus from humans.
‘As humans encroach ever more steadily into natural ecosystems, the risk increases that pathogens will be transmitted from humans to animals, or vice versa.’
Staphylococcus aureus is one of the most common causes of infections after injury or surgery in humans and in some cases it can even cause death. In the study, experts isolated strains of Staphylococcus aureus from the noses of healthy monkeys in the Gambia and compared the monkey strains with strains isolated from humans in similar locations.
"We used a technique known as high-throughput sequencing to gain an exquisitely detailed view of the relationships between the various strains," said study co-author Mark Pallen, professor of Microbial Genomics, Warwick Medical School, University of Warwick, Coventry, England.
"The results showed that monkeys had acquired S. aureus strains from humans on multiple occasions," he added. Most of the Staphylococcus aureus found in monkeys were part of a clade, a group with common ancestors, which appeared to have resulted from a human-to-monkey transmission event that occurred 2,700 years ago.
Two of the most recent human-to-monkey transmission events appear to have taken place around three decades ago, and roughly seven years ago, respectively. These events appear to be the result of human encroachment into the monkeys' natural habitat, and probably resulted from transfer of human bacteria from hands to food that was then fed to monkeys, according to the report.
In the last few generations, the combination of increasing human encroachment on wild ecosystems, and increasing human travel has led to acquisition and spread of diseases ranging from HIV to Lyme disease. "As humans encroach ever more steadily into natural ecosystems, the risk increases that pathogens will be transmitted from humans to animals, or vice versa," Pallen concluded.