- 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
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. <http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/EID/index.htmEmerging
Infectious Diseases, 8, In the press (2002).
- © Nature News Service / Macmillan Magazines Ltd