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Headline: New plagues of monkey viruses?

Source: US NEWS.COM, Science & Technology Section (website)

April 8th, 2002

The AIDS epidemic probably started decades ago when viruses carried by
chimpanzees and monkeys made the jump to humans. A new study raises the
specter of similar emerging diseases, showing that people in Africa who
keep or eat monkeys often encounter other monkey viruses, distant cousins
of HIV.

The researchers  used tests for HIV and its relatives to screen for unknown
viruses in blood from 573 monkeys sold as meat and 215 kept as pets in
Cameroon.  Nearly a fifth tested positive, according to a report to appear
in Emerging Infectious Diseases. "We are assuming that some of these
viruses have already crossed into humans. They obviously haven't caused an
epidemic," says Beatrice Hahn of the University of Alabama, who notes that
"most cross-species transmissions go nowhere."

But because of the potential for disaster, the scientists hope to start
screening for the viruses in people who handle monkey meat as well as those
with unexplained, AIDS-like illnesses. The findings also provide another
potent argument against the thriving trade in "bushmeat"­wild animals shot
for food­which threatens many African species, says Martine Peeters of the
Research Institute for Development in France. She says the study has
already persuaded the government of Cameroon to start publicizing of health
risks from bushmeat.

- Nell Boyce

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