02:09am Saturday 30 May 2020

Illegal Wildlife Trade Opens New Route for Pathogen Transmission

Many originate in countries with endemic plagues, such as H5N1 influenza, Nipah virus, and simian retroviruses. In fact, the fictional pandemic in the 2011 Hollywood thriller Contagion was based on actual outbreaks of Nipah virus in Bangladesh and India, where infected bats presumably transmitted the disease to humans by contaminating[NA1]  the local food supply.

In 2008, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention partnered with several nongovernmental agencies, including Columbia’s Center for Infection and Immunity (CII), to assess the global public-health risk of such items.

In the first report released from this collaboration, smuggled parcels of African bush meat confiscated at five major US airports were screened for a variety of dangerous pathogens. Twenty percent (12/60) of the products were positive for a known zoonotic infection (simian foamy virus) and/or two herpes viruses (cytomegaloviruses and lymphocryptoviruses).

These findings show the potential for disease transmission via illegal trade and the importance of microbial surveillance of wildlife trade.

The study, “Zoonotic Viruses Associated with Illegally Imported Wildlife Products,” was published on January 10, 2012, in PloS ONE. The CII-affiliated authors are Simon J. Anthony, DPhil; Tracie Seimon, PhD; Maria D. Sanchez, BS; Margot Stuchin, BA; and W. Ian Lipkin, MD.

Columbia University Medical Center

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