ARCHIVED - Simian Foamy Virus (SFV): Questions and Answers


1. What is simian foamy virus (SFV)?

Foamy viruses are a family of viruses commonly found in primates (monkeys), cows, cats and other organisms. Simian foamy virus is found in non-human primates, such as chimpanzees and macaques.

About 70 to 90 percent of non-human primates born in captivity have SFV. Animals with SFV do not display symptoms or become ill. However, recent research suggests that some primates may be pre-disposed to other viruses after being infected with SFV.

People who have had contact with non-human primates can become infected with SFV.

2. Do people become ill who have SFV?

So far nobody who has been tested positive for SFV infection has become ill. Over the 2 to 20 years that these infected people have been followed, nobody has become ill to date.

3. Who is at risk of acquiring SFV?

People at risk work directly with non-human primates in institutions such as zoos, public or private biomedical research institutions, and animal sanctuaries. In these groups, studies have found that about 2 to 4 percent are infected with SFV. Most of the infected people have been bitten, scratched or had the skin punctured (e.g. needlestick).

4. How is it transmitted from monkeys to humans?

The exact method of transmission hasn't been confirmed, but there are indications that the virus may be transmitted through exposure to blood, saliva and other bodily fluids from affected animals.

5. Could people be exposed to SFV when visiting zoos that have monkeys?

There is no evidence to indicate that humans can acquire SFV through casual contact, i.e. being in the same room or building as SFV affected primates. It appears that it can only be acquired under circumstances where people are in direct contact with SFV affected monkeys' blood, saliva or other body fluids.

6. What are the long-term health effects for people who have acquired SFV?

Most retroviruses, if they cause disease, have a long latency period. We do not yet know for certain what the long-term health effects are for people who have acquired SFV. However, the evidence thus far suggests the risk is very low.

7. Is SFV contagious?

There is no evidence to suggest that SFV can be transmitted from one person to another. Blood samples taken from spouses of workers in the United States who have acquired SFV have shown no evidence of SFV, suggesting that transmission through sexual or less intimate contact does not occur easily.

8. Is SFV related to HIV/AIDS?

There are three groups of retroviruses known to affect humans: Foamy virus has not been linked to human or animal disease to date. Some other types of retroviruses are linked to some types of cancer; or to immunodeficiency disease, such as AIDS.

9. Can I be tested for SFV?

No. There is currently no standard test to detect SFV infection. The Public Health Agency of Canada has the only lab in Canada that can determine whether a person has been exposed to SFV infection. The Agency may conduct further research for at-risk groups, such as people working directly with non-human primates.

10. What is the role of the Public Health Agency of Canada for SFV?

Upon request, the Public Health Agency of Canada provides public health advice to Health Canada and is responsible for blood safety surveillance. Recently, the Public Health Agency of Canada's National HIV and Retrovirology Laboratories found that SFV is transmissible from one non-human primate to another. This study is important because it demonstrates for the first time that SFV can be transmitted by blood transfusion. The Public Health Agency of Canada has completed a preliminary risk assessment on SFV and continues to work with Health Canada to ensure the safety of the blood system.

11. Are pet monkey owners at risk?

Based on currently available information, individuals who have pet monkeys may not be at risk of simian foamy virus infection. Typically, pet monkeys are New World primates and there is no available evidence that New World monkeys can transmit simian foamy virus to humans. However, if the pet is an old world monkey or ape then the owner may be at risk of simian foamy virus infection. Regardless of the possibility of simian foamy virus exposure, if pet owners are bitten or scratched, they should follow standard first aid precautions. As is the case with any animal, other types of infection are possible. If there are signs of infection or if the animal becomes ill, prompt medical attention would be required.

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