The detection of tuberculosis causing bacteria using a new technique could help in protecting the health of primate populations. Monkeys and apes might find tuberculosis to be a serious threat.
The method can spot TB even among infected primates that show no outward sign of disease, but are still capable of spreading infection to others of their kind.
Existing tests for TB in primates are difficult to apply and give unreliable results, often failing to detect infections.
With the new approach, researchers obtained the first published evidence of TB pathogens in the mouths of Asian monkeys living near people.
The study appears in the latest issue of the American Journal of Primatology. Dr. Lisa Jones-Engel, a senior research scientist at the National Primate Research Center at the University of Washington, headed the international project.
Her team worked in six Asian countries and the Rock of Gibraltar, places where people come into frequent contact with macaques.
The monkeys are kept as pets, or live in temples, range freely throughout urban neighborhoods, reside in nature parks or zoos, or perform as entertainers.
The researchers took cheek swabs or tossed the monkeys tasty chew sticks to obtain samples from the oral cavity, as TB usually enters and exits the body through the mouth and nose.
The scientists then analyzed the specimens to look for DNA from tuberculosis bacteria.
They applied a test designed by UW National Primate Research Center Alicia Wilbur and her colleagues, who study the origin and evolution of infectious disease.