Sunday, January 15, 2012

Imported bush meat: a unique source of zoonotic viruses

By now, we're all familiar with the threats posed by consumption of bush meat. However, in a recent research article, Kristine M. Smith et al. point out the severity of the situation in Western countries. By one estimate, approximately 273 tons of bush meat illegally arrive at a single airport in Paris each year, or over five tons per week (!!!).

The U.S. is not immune (teehee) to this illegal import either, although we currently do not have sufficient screening protocols to provide an accurate estimate of the amount of bush meat smuggled here. Samples are typically immediately incinerated. However, with cooperation from JFK Airport and the US Fish and Wildlife Service, Smith was able to acquire 44 samples of bush meat (primates and rodents, both raw and barbecued). Analysis of these samples revealed the presence of CMV, simian foamy virus (SFV), and lymphocryptoviruses (LCVs, similar to Epstein-Barr virus). No SIV was detected, though Smith attributes this to the low number of primate samples (n=9).

These findings raise some interesting questions. For one, who's importing this bush meat, and why? Janet Raloff's commentary on the issue suggests that immigrants may "have retained their love of... bushmeat" and are responsible for having it imported. In addition, what can be done to reduce the amount of bush meat brought onto U.S. soil? Improved screening is one potential solution. Targeting the cultural source of the issue might also be possible, by emphasizing the dangers posed by consumption of bush meat.

Bush meat: not even once.

-Alan Le

Zoonotic Viruses Associated with Illegally Imported Wildlife Products, Smith KM

More commentary with links to further reading at 1 and 2

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