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CDC HIV/AIDS/Viral Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update
UNITED STATES: CDC Expands Testing of Confiscated 'Bush Meat' for Viruses
Brian Vastag
January 23, 2012
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).