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Washington Post: Herpes was passed from chimps, long before humans existed

June 16, 2014 — 

An adult is more likely than not to have herpes. Where did such an affliction come from?

“New genomic analysis has found that oral herpes may have been around since before our split with chimpanzees happened about 6 million years ago,” a Washington Post article reads. “The virus then branched out and followed the evolution of hominids to become oral herpes, or herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV-1).”

The article continues: “The ancestor of all monkeys and apes had the herpes virus,” said study author and virologist Joel Wertheim of the University of California at San Diego. “When the host species lineage started to split, the viruses also formed new lineages.”

The virus responsible for genital herpes hit our ancestors later, likely jumping from proto-chimps to a now-extinct hominid — either Homo habilis or Homo erectus — about 1.6 million years ago. The ancient virus eventually gave rise to what is now known as herpes simplex virus 2 (HSV-2) in humans, commonly spread through sexual contact.

Because the chimpanzee herpes simplex virus found its way back into our lineage, we are the only primate species known to be infected with two distinct herpes simplex viruses. But how the transmission occurred from primate-to-hominid all those years ago remains a mystery”

To provide analysis of the study, the reporter interviewed Alberto Severini, an assistant professor of medical microbiology. He told the paper that alternate means could have been through hominids hunting and eating the meat of proto-chimps or living with them in close quarters.

“By looking at the number of these mutations, you can infer the time that it took for two strains to diverge,” Severini said.

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