Chimpanzee Human Disease


It is amazing and exciting to see how closely related we are to chimpanzees; however, many chimpanzees face the threat of human disease due to this striking similarity. A chimpanzee can catch most of our human diseases because their bodies are very similar to ours. A disease that is not a big problem to you or to other humans, such as the common cold, can be devastating for a chimpanzee. Can you remember a time that you had a cough or perhaps the sniffles from a cold?  You probably did not feel the best for a few days but your body could fight off the cold since the illness is common and your body is prepared and knows how to fight off the sniffles.  

Many human diseases have never before been experienced by chimps and are often introduced  to an area where chimps live.  Many people who go to visit and observe the chimps in the forest may be carrying germs that their bodies can fight off but that could make chimps sick and we may transmit our human germs to chimps. The chimpanzeesí immune systems have not built up a defense against the unfamiliar germs, and the chimpsí bodies are less able to fight off the diseases.  Whereas your body can quickly fight off the cough and sniffles of the common cold; some common human diseases can be life threatening for chimpanzees.


Chimpanzees pick up germs just like we humans do: usually from the air or from touching infected objects, and some simple steps can be easily taken to reduce the transmission of human diseases to chimps. If you go into the forests to see the chimps there will be rules about what is allowed and what is not allowed, in order to protect the chimpanzees.  It is important to follow these rules to prevent spreading diseases. People who feel sick, even if they just have a cold, should not go into the forest until they are better. When in the forest, everyone should maintain a distance of 10 feet from the chimps possible, and all precautions should be taken to avoid touching the chimps. People need to be very careful not to drop anything in the forest. Garbage and other human objects can spread germs to chimps who may come across these objects and pick them up later. Eating or drinking in the presence of the chimps is not allowed for a similar reason.  Also, remember if mother nature calls when you are in the forests, all human waste should also be buried at least one foot underground.


Many locations where humans including visitors, researchers, park rangers, and anyone else who may go within a relatively close distance of chimps require surgical masks to be worn when in the presence of the chimps. It has been discovered  that disease transmission from humans to chimps is reduced using this method.  Other places, though,  do not require masks to be worn because those who manage the area think that the masks are unnecessary and do not reduce the ability for human germs to be transmitted to chimps in the forest.  In both situations, regardless of the view on the effectiveness and use of surgical masks, visitors are told to maintain the 10 ft distance from the chimps, to reduce the likelihood  that any germs  breathed out by humans will reach the chimps.


These are all easy things that when practiced greatly reduce the incidence of disease transmission to chimpanzees. By thinking about and paying attention to our actions when we are near chimps, humans can prevent the spread of many germs that cause health problems for the chimpanzees.




Message from CAC'ers

When we were in Tanzania we learned all of the rules above at Gombe Stream Natinal Park and Mahale National Park. Many of the days that we observed chimpanzees in the forests we had to wear the masks in hopes to reduce the spread of any unfamiliar human disease to the chimps.  We also met with a veterinarian while in Gombe who taught us the importance of understanding the need to reduce the spread of human disease to our cousins the chimpanzees who may not be able to fight off common diseases as well as we can.


Content provided by Canisius College students under the direction of Michael Noonan, PhD.