Monkey meat riddled with SIVHIV's ancestor
common in African bushmeat.
|The boom in bushmeat is bringing
more people into contact with SIV.|
More than one-fifth of the monkey meat sold in the markets of Cameroon
is infected with HIV's ancestor, SIV, the first thorough survey of
The level and variety of simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV) strains
found highlights the risk of new HIV-like viruses entering humans via
bushmeat, claim the researchers.
"It happened before, so why shouldn't it happen again?" asks Martine
Peeters, a virologist at the Research Institute for Development in
Montpellier, France who led the research team. She suspects the situation
in Cameroon is typical of tropical Africa.
The traditional bushmeat trade has boomed as roads have penetrated the
jungles. Urban growth has boosted demand for rare delicacies, bringing
more people into contact with SIV. "The risk now is much higher than 40 or
50 years ago," says Peeters.
Peeters' team screened blood samples from 16 species of monkey and ape
in markets and kept as pets. Their results confirm what many suspected:
"There are a lot of things out there carrying viruses just like HIV," says
Edward Holmes, who studies SIV and HIV at England's University of Oxford.
More surprising is the virus's diversity. The researchers found 21
types of SIV, four of them new to science. This is worrying, as the more
strains a person is exposed to, the greater the chance of infection, says
Two distantly related strains of SIV have already jumped into humans.
The two types of HIV - HIV-1 and HIV-2 - originated in chimpanzees and
sooty mangabeys, respectively. "Viruses jump the species barrier all the
time," says Holmes.
Peeters is now trying to catch transmission in action. Her team are
sequencing the genomes of all the SIV strains they collected and aim to
develop tests for the viruses. They will then screen people who prepare or
eat bushmeat to see which, if any, strains they are carrying. "It could be
possible to predict what might jump in future," says Holmes.