Washington Post (01.15.12) - Monday, January 23, 2012
A CDC project that screens wild "bush meat" confiscated at US
airports for infectious diseases has found retroviruses and
herpesviruses in nonhuman primate and rodent species.
Bush meat is considered an edible treat from home by some
African residents of the United States, but the nation's
disease detectives worry about its potential to harbor exotic
viruses that could cause a deadly outbreak. Infectious-disease
experts are convinced that HIV and severe acute respiratory
syndrome (SARS) jumped to humans through the butchering,
handling, and eating of infected meat.
The project launched as a pilot in 2008 at Dulles
International Airport in Chantilly, Va., John F. Kennedy
International Airport in New York, and airports in Houston and
Atlanta. Scientists netted heads, arms, and other pieces of
two chimpanzees, seven monkeys, and 35 rodents, mostly giant
cane rats - all of it illegally imported.
The program found three exotic viruses, though they do not
appear dangerous to humans. Two are in the family of viruses
that cause herpes in humans, while simian foamy virus, found
in the monkeys and one of the chimps, is a retrovirus. There
is no sign SFV makes people sick, said CDC's Brian Switzer.
However, the agency has been keeping close tabs on 130 people
infected with SFV, mostly laboratory or zoo workers who
handled monkeys, apes, or blood and tissue from the primates.
"We're looking at whether these viruses are transmissible to
close contacts, spouses, children, and so on," Switzer said.
With $59,740 in additional funding, CDC is expanding bush meat
testing efforts to 18 of CDC's 20 quarantine stations, which
are usually located at airports. However, funding is uncertain
beyond this year, said Nina Marano, who heads the program.
The report, "Zoonotic Viruses Associated with Illegally
Imported Wildlife Products," was published in Public Library
of Science ONE (2012;7(1):e29505).