Emerging zoonotic infectious diseases pose a serious threat to global health. This is especially true in relation to the great apes, whose close phylogenetic relationship with humans results in a high potential for microorganism exchange. In this review, we show how studies of the microorganisms of wild great apes can lead to the discovery of novel pathogens of importance for humans. We also illustrate how these primates, living in their natural habitats, can serve as sentinels for outbreaks of human disease in regions with a high likelihood of disease emergence. Greater sampling efforts and improvements in sample preservation and diagnostic capacity are rapidly improving our understanding of the diversity and distribution of microorganisms in wild great apes. Linking non-invasive diagnostic data with observational health data from great apes habituated to human presence is a promising approach for the discovery of pathogens of high relevance for humans.
© 2012 The Authors. Clinical Microbiology and Infection © 2012 European Society of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases.