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Scientists find a 100% lethal bacteria in chimpanzees that could be transmitted to humans

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Scientists have managed to identify a new bacterium that has been killing chimpanzees for years at a sanctuary in Sierra Leone. The researchers’ concern is that the ever-fatal disease caused by the microorganism is passed on to humans.

The new bacteria is called Sarcina troglodytae, and the disease it causes has been called Epizootic Neurologic and Gastroenteric Syndrome (ENGS). The findings of the research, led by researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, were published in the scientific journal Nature Communications.

The first ENGS records date back to 2005. 

The disease strikes its victims suddenly. A chimpanzee who seemed healthy just a day before, contracts the disease and staggers almost like a drunkard with a nervous system disorder known as ataxia. Chimpanzees also suffer from bloating of the stomach and intestines. They seem to die from the gas that enters the tissue of the intestines.

At the moment, there are no known cases of humans affected by the disease, but the similarities between the DNA of chimpanzees and humans have scientists concerned.

“There are very few pathogens that infect chimpanzees and not humans and very few pathogens that infect humans and not chimps,” said Tony Goldberg, one of the authors of the paper and a professor of epidemiology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, quoted by the USA today.

Known deadly diseases, such as Ebola and AIDS, have passed from hominoid primates to humans. Other diseases, such as influenza and polio, went the other way.

In addition, fatal diseases in 100% of cases, such as what happens with ENGS, are rare. Ebola itself, which is one of the most feared diseases in humans, kills approximately 50% of those infected.

“It seems like something we need to be concerned about,” Goldberg stressed.

Apparently, newly discovered bacteria can live on the ground. However, scientists still don’t know exactly how animals ingest it.

In an infected chimpanzee, Sarcina troglodytae cells release ethanol and carbon dioxide, which can cause observed neurological and gastrointestinal problems. In addition, the bacteria is able to enter the inner organs of the animal, such as its lungs and even its brain.

“We don’t know how [the bacteria] got there,” Goldberg said, before adding that this is one of the mysteries researchers still need to solve.

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