Officials in New York have identified two strains of simian foamy virus in wildlife imported as food–known as “bushmeat”–from three primate species: two mangabey monkeys and a chimpanzee, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). All of these animals are also endangered.
Preliminary studies show that humans can contract simian foamy virus, but its long-term effects remain unknown. Could another AIDS-like epidemic therefore be on the horizon? The WCS, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and others are working now to prevent that from happening. A symposium called “Wildlife Conservation and Human Health” is taking place today at Rockefeller University.
Inspection and health officials have seized hundreds of samples of wildlife and wildlife products coming through luggage and mail parcels through main entry points for both people and goods into New York City and the United States. Samples have been taken from at least 14 species, including great apes, monkeys, rodents, and bats.
In addition to the simian foamy virus, the officials have also been testing for flavivirus and filovirus, but those results haven’t been released yet. More than 70 percent of zoonoses, which are diseases that affect both animals and humans, stem from human contact with wildlife.
“The movement and mixing of humans, wildlife, and domestic animals as part of the illegal global wildlife trade encourages transmission of disease and emergence of novel pathogens,” said William Karesh of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Global Health Program.
According to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, more than one billion individual animals were imported into the United States from 2000 to 2004, along with over 11 million pounds of bushmeat and other animal products.