Foamy Virus (Spumavirus) Infection

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Human Uniqueness Compared to "Great Apes": 
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All primate species have been shown to be frequent hosts to non-pathogenic retroviruses called Foamy viruses (SFV), which appear to be almost commensal organisms, causing no known pathology in the infected individuals. Lineage-specific spumaviruses have been found in all primate species studied, and the phylogeny of these viruses mirrors the phylogeny of the primate species themselves. While infection rates >20% have been documented in wild chimpanzees, SFV infections in humans seems to be absent, with the exception of individuals who regularly contact great apes or other primate species (zoo keepers or hunters). Especially given the evidence that humans can be asymptomatically infected and become long-term carriers of SFV, is no explanation for this lack of endemic infection in humans. Indeed, as the common ancestor of humans and chimpanzees very likely harbored the virus, the question arises as to how endemic SFV was eliminated from the human population


Timing of appearance of the difference in the Hominin Lineage as a defined date or a lineage separation event. The point in time associated with lineage separation events may change in the future as the scientific community agrees upon better time estimates. Lineage separation events are defined in 2017 as:

  • the Last Common Ancestor (LCA) of humans and old world monkeys was 25,000 - 30,000 thousand (25 - 30 million) years ago
  • the Last Common Ancestor (LCA) of humans and chimpanzees was 6,000 - 8,000 thousand (6 - 8 million) years ago
  • the emergence of the genus Homo was 2,000 thousand (2 million) years ago
  • the Last Common Ancestor (LCA) of humans and neanderthals was 500 thousand years ago
  • the common ancestor of modern humans was 100 - 300 thousand years ago

Possible Appearance: 
6,000 thousand years ago
Probable Appearance: 
2,000 thousand years ago
Definite Appearance: 
100 thousand years ago
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  1. An immunodominant and conserved B-cell epitope in the envelope of simian foamy virus recognized by humans infected with zoonotic strains from apes, Lambert, Caroline, Batalie Damien, Montange Thomas, Betsem Edouard, Mouinga-Ondeme Augustin, Njouom Richard, Gessain Antoine, and Buseyne Florence , Journal of Virology, 2019/03/20, p.JVI.00068-19, (2019)
  2. Ancient co-speciation of simian foamy viruses and primates., Switzer, William M., Salemi Marco, Shanmugam Vedapuri, Gao Feng, Cong Mian-Er, Kuiken Carla, Bhullar Vinod, Beer Brigitte E., Vallet Dominique, Gautier-Hion Annie, et al. , Nature, 2005 Mar 17, Volume 434, Issue 7031, p.376-80, (2005)