Monkey Meat Riddled With
Simian AIDS (SIV)

By Tom Clarke

More than one-fifth of the monkey meat sold in the markets of Cameroon is infected with HIV's ancestor, SIV, the first thorough survey of bushmeat reveals.1.

The level and variety of simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV) strains found highlights the risk of new HIV-like viruses entering humans via bushmeat, claim the researchers.

"It happened before, so why shouldn't it happen again?" asks Martine Peeters, a virologist at the Research Institute for Development in Montpellier, France who led the research team. She suspects the situation in Cameroon is typical of tropical Africa.

The traditional bushmeat trade has boomed as roads have penetrated the jungles. Urban growth has boosted demand for rare delicacies, bringing more people into contact with SIV. "The risk now is much higher than 40 or 50 years ago," says Peeters.

Peeters' team screened blood samples from 16 species of monkey and ape in markets and kept as pets. Their results confirm what many suspected: "There are a lot of things out there carrying viruses just like HIV," says Edward Holmes, who studies SIV and HIV at England's University of Oxford.

More surprising is the virus's diversity. The researchers found 21 types of SIV, four of them new to science. This is worrying, as the more strains a person is exposed to, the greater the chance of infection, says Holmes.

Two distantly related strains of SIV have already jumped into humans. The two types of HIV - HIV-1 and HIV-2 - originated in chimpanzees and sooty mangabeys, respectively. "Viruses jump the species barrier all the time," says Holmes.

Peeters is now trying to catch transmission in action. Her team are sequencing the genomes of all the SIV strains they collected and aim to develop tests for the viruses. They will then screen people who prepare or eat bushmeat to see which, if any, strains they are carrying. "It could be possible to predict what might jump in future," says Holmes.
1. Peeters, M. et al. Risk to human health from a plethora of simian immunodeficiency viruses in primate bushmeat. < Infectious Diseases, 8, In the press (2002).
© Nature News Service / Macmillan Magazines Ltd 2002

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