• What is disease?

    The term disease broadly refers to any condition that impairs normal function. Commonly, this term is used to describe infectious diseases caused by the presence of viruses, bacteria, parasites and fungi. Virtually all diseases that can harm us can harm the great apes since we share so many genetic and physiologic properties; indeed this is one reason why chimpanzees were historically a popular disease model.

    Human diseases that could attack great apes include germs that are easily transmitted and difficult to control, such as respiratory disease or diarrhea-causing pathogens, and also those that persist long in the environment since this creates a higher chance of transmission. These include the common cold, pneumonia, whooping cough, influenza, hepatitis A and B, chicken and small pox, tuberculosis, bacterial meningitis, diphtheria, measles, rubella, mumps, yellow fever, yaws, polio, encephalomyocarditis and Ebola fever (Butynski, 2001). There are also numerous vector borne (vectors are vehicles by which infections are transmitted from one host to another, most commonly arthropods, domestic animals or mammals) parasitological diseases common to humans and apes, which can be fatal or have severe consequences for normal behaviour and health (Toft, 1986). As well as air and vector borne diseases, human faeces are a potential source of human pathogen transmission to wild apes. Some of these viruses are particularly important because of their zoonotic potential (transmission of disease from apes to humans, and/or vice versa).

  • How important is this threat compared to others?

  • Why is it a threat to great apes?

  • Is disease dangerous for all species in the same way?

Compiled and edited 2011 by Kay H. Farmer
Reviewed by Hjalmar Kuehl, Josephine Head and Neba Funwi-Gabga

  • References