Wide Variety of SIV Strains Found in Monkey Meat Concerns Researchers
Researchers are concerned that the wide variety of strains of simian immunodeficiency virus, an "ancestor" of HIV that researchers theorize jumped to humans, found in more than 20% of monkey meat sold in markets in Cameroon could lead to a rise in new "HIV-like viruses" in humans, Nature Magazine/Wall Street Journal Europe reports. Martine Peeters, a virologist at the Research Institute for Development in Montpellier, France, and colleagues tested blood samples taken from 16 species of monkeys and apes sold in markets or kept as pets in Cameroon and found 21 strains of SIV -- four of them never before seen -- in more than 20% of the samples. Peeters said that the findings in Cameroon are probably "typical of tropical Africa" as a whole. The variety of strains is particularly concerning because the more strains a person comes into contact with, the more likely he or she is to become infected, Edward Holmes, an SIV researcher at the University of Oxford, explained. Two strains of SIV have already "jumped" to humans, giving rise to HIV-1 and HIV-2, he noted. Peeters and her team are sequencing the DNA of the SIV strains and hope to develop tests to detect the different viruses. They will then use the tests to screen people who eat or prepare bushmeat, which has become increasingly popular as more roads have been cut through the jungles and urbanization has "boosted demand for rare delicacies." Such tests might make it "possible to predict what might jump in the future," Holmes said. Peeters noted that the transmission happened before, "so why shouldn't it happen again?" (Clarke, Nature Magazine/Wall Street Journal Europe, 3/26).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.