The coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) currently circulating worldwide causes respiratory diseases with a mortality rate of about 2%. In a recent study, scientists have now been able to confirm that infection of rhesus monkeys with SARS-CoV-2 also causes many of the symptoms seen in humans.
The new study thus complements findings from previous studies. For example, Chinese researchers have already found evidence of immunity in rhesus monkeys after they have been infected with the coronavirus. Another finding emphasizes that the disease in rhesus monkeys is similar to that in humans: Older animals showed more severe symptoms than young animals.
These findings thus make rhesus monkeys an important animal model in the search for therapies and vaccines for the treatment of COVID-19. In fact, rhesus monkeys have already been used for initial vaccine tests in another Chinese study. The researchers were able to observe that the animals developed a protective immune response after vaccination with killed corona viruses and did not show any symptoms of disease even after infection with high doses of live viruses.
For the current study, which was conducted at the US-American health authority NIH, eight adult rhesus monkeys were infected with the novel corona virus. The animals developed respiratory diseases after a short period of time with a disease duration of 8-16 days and thus showed a similar course as in humans. X-rays were used to detect lung infiltrates that are characteristic of the human disease. Likewise, high viral loads were found in nasal and throat swabs and in samples from the lungs.
The development of disease symptoms similar to those in humans makes rhesus monkeys ideal animal models to better understand the development of COVID-19 and to reliably test new drugs and vaccines in terms of efficacy and safety.