Nonhuman primates can be naturally infected with a plethora of viruses with zoonotic potential, including retroviruses. These simian viruses present risks to both captive nonhuman primate populations and persons exposed to nonhuman primates. Simian retroviruses, including simian immunodeficiency virus, simian type D retrovirus, simian T-lymphotropic virus, and gibbon ape leukemia virus, have been shown to cause clinical disease in nonhuman primates. In contrast, simian foamy virus, a retrovirus that is highly prevalent in most nonhuman primates, has not been associated with clinical disease in naturally infected primates. Although it has been shown that human retrovirus infections with human T-lymphotropic virus and human immunodeficiency virus originated through multiple independent introductions of simian retroviruses into human populations that then spread globally, little is known about the frequency of such zoonotic events. In this article, exogenous simian retroviruses are reviewed as a concern for zoo and wildlife veterinarians, primate handlers, other persons in direct contact with nonhuman primates, and other nonhuman primates in a collection. The health implications for individual animals as well as managed populations in zoos and research institutions are discussed, the cross-species transmission and zoonotic disease potential of simian retroviruses are described, and suggestions for working safely with nonhuman primates are provided.
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Vol. 37 • No. 3