We discovered a lethal hemorrhagic syndrome arising from severe thrombocytopenia in Japanese macaques kept at the Primate Research Institute, Kyoto University. Extensive investigation identified that simian retrovirus type 4 (SRV-4) was the causative agent of the disease. SRV-4 had previously been isolated only from cynomolgus macaques in which it is usually asymptomatic. We consider that the SRV-4 crossed the so-called species barrier between cynomolgus and Japanese macaques, leading to extremely severe acute symptoms in the latter. Infectious agents that cross the species barrier occasionally amplify in virulence, which is not observed in the original hosts. In such cases, the new hosts are usually distantly related to the original hosts. However, Japanese macaques are closely related to cynomolgus macaques, and can even hybridize when given the opportunity. This lethal outbreak of a novel pathogen in Japanese macaques highlights the need to modify our expectations about virulence with regards crossing species barriers.
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