- The consumption of bushmeat, especially from great apes, is currently causing the breeding of new HIV virus strains among humans, scientists have found. In Cameroon, people are now showing up with symptoms of HIV, but are testing negative for both the virus and its primate equivalent SIV.
This warning is reported in the journal 'New Scientist' by experts who gathered this month for the annual meeting of the Society for Conservation Biology in New York. The scientists warn against the continued consumption of and trade in such bushmeat.
Particularly in Central and West Africa, bushmeat from primates is traded and consumed. Due to blood contact between ape and human or due to insufficient cooking, viruses are known to jump over to the hunter, trader, cook or consumer.
SIV is proven to first have developed as a disease among great apes. After blood contact with humans, the virus mutated into HIV in the human body. According to the 'New Scientist' article, scientists have now proven that this ape-to-human has happened "on at least seven separate occasions in recent history, not twice as is commonly thought."
The recent observations in Cameroon of people with HIV symptoms but without HIV or SIV positive test results are causing concerns over the ongoing creating of new HIV strains, which ultimately could make it even more difficult to find a cure against AIDS.
In Africa, at least 26 different primate species are infected with some strain of SIV, according to the US-based group Bushmeat Crisis Task Force. As the meat of many of those species is being consumed by humans, the risk of many new SIV strains jumping over to humans is believed to be significant.
This danger was also demonstrated by a surprising development earlier this year. For the first time ever, the ape disease Simian Foamy Virus had jumped to a human; a bushmeat hunter. While the virus had not (yet) caused symptoms, a possible mutation of the virus could trigger an entirely new disease for humanity.
Equally, conservation scientist Elizabeth Lonsdorf told delegates at the annual meeting that epidemics observations of chimpanzees at the Gombe Stream National Park, Tanzania, pointed in the same direction. Most of the outbreaks of epidemics in the park originated from or were spread by humans, "posing a substantial risk to the long-term survival of Gombe's chimpanzee population."
All available research therefore was pointing to the health risks of too close contact between humans and other primates. The dangers were not only steming from the bushmeat trade - although this is said to pose the greatest risk - but also from the trade in living exotic animals as pets and from deforestation.
Deforestation leads to the increased concentration of surviving wildlife in limited areas - patches of forest - and thus enhances contact between virus bearing animals and encroaching settlements. All these developments were "creating the ideal conditions for new diseases to emerge," the scientists concluded.
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