Primate viruses transmitted to people through bushmeat

People in Central Africa who hunt monkeys and great apes are routinely being infected by retroviruses, the class of viruses that includes HIV. An international team of researchers from Cameroon and the United States has documented, for the first time, the transmission of a retrovirus from primates to people in natural settings.

In the March 20, 2004, edition of The Lancet, researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, the Cameroon Ministry of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other institutions report the presence of antibodies for simian foamy virus (SFV) in 1 percent of the people tested. People infected with SFV came from multiple isolated villages and were infected with viruses from at least three separate species of monkey and ape.

"Simian foamy virus should be considered a novel retrovirus of humans. Researchers have documented animal to human transmission of SFV in the laboratory, but our study is the first to demonstrate that these retroviruses are actively crossing into people," said Nathan Wolfe, ScD, lead author of the study and an assistant professor in the Department of Epidemiology at the School of Public Health. "The hunting and butchering of primates plays a role in retroviral emergence. It is in all of our interests to put into place economic alternatives to help people move away from hunting and eating these animals. In addition to preserving endangered species, such development efforts will reduce the risk that ongoing cross-species transmission of retroviruses and other pathogens could spark future epidemics similar to HIV," added Dr. Wolfe.

For the study, Dr. Wolfe and his colleagues examined blood samples from 1,099 individuals from Cameroon who were taking part in an HIV prevention program. All of the study participants reported having some exposure to non-human primate blood, which occurred primarily through hunting and butchering. The blood samples were screened for S

Contact: Tim Parsons or Kenna Brigham
Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health

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