Old World monkeys (OWM), simians inhabiting Africa and Asia, are currently affected by at least four infectious retroviruses, namely, simian foamy virus (SFV), simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV), simian T-lymphotropic virus (STLV), and simian type D retrovirus (SRV). OWM also show chromosomal evidence of having been infected in the past with four more retroviral species, baboon endogenous virus (BaEV), Papio cynocephalus endogenous virus (PcEV), simian endogenous retrovirus (SERV), and Rhesus endogenous retrovirus-K (RhERV-K/SERV-K1). For some of the viruses, transmission to other primates still occurs, resulting, for instance, in the HIV pandemic. Retroviruses are intimately connected with their host as they are normally spread by close contact. In this review, an attempt to reconstruct the distribution and history of OWM retroviruses will be made. A literature overview of the species infected by any of the eight retroviruses as well as an age estimation of the pathogens will be given. In addition, primate genomes from databases have been re-analyzed for the presence of endogenous retrovirus integrations. Results suggest that some of the oldest retroviruses, SERV and PcEV, have travelled with their hosts to Asia during the Miocene, when a higher global temperature allowed simian expansions. In contrast, younger viruses, such as SIV and SRV, probably due to the lack of a primate continuum between the continents in later times, have been restricted to Africa and Asia, respectively.
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