Smuggled African Bushmeat Sneaks Herpes, HIV Into USA

Raw and semi-cooked cuts of nonhuman primate are ticking pathogen bombs.

bonobo, pigmy chimpanzee

'Don't eat me, and we'll both be happier.' A bonobo, or pigmy chimpanzee, one of only 1,000 spared by bushmeat hunters, relaxes in a Congo ape sanctuary. (Photo: Katrina Manson/Reuters)

Allan MacDonell is TakePart’s News + Opinion editor, with a focus on social justice.

At a time when the fear of otherness in America is almost a disease in itself, the EcoHealth alliance has released evidence that herpes and retroviruses have been found in butchered African animals seized at five U.S. airports. Travelers connecting through New York’s JFK, Washington Dulles, George Bush Intercontinental-Houston, Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International and Philadelphia International Airport may shudder to learn that some fellow passengers are smuggling meat from baboons, chimpanzees, green monkeys and cane rats into the United States.

Travelers may shudder to learn that some fellow passengers are smuggling meat from baboons, chimpanzees, green monkeys and cane rats into the United States.

A new DNA barcoding technology identifies a genetic marker in an organism to determine its particular species. Much of the contraband is from endangered primates; a portion of the meat is infected with herpes and the HIV-related simian foamy virus. As reported by Environment News Service:

Dr. Kristine Smith, associate director for health and policy at EcoHealth Alliance, said, “The findings remind us of the potential public health risk posed by illegal importation of wildlife products—a risk we hope to better characterize through expanded surveillance of ports of entry around the country.”

Scientists say nearly 75 percent of emerging infectious diseases in humans originate in animals and the majority originate in wildlife, such as the 2003 SARS outbreak, which was traced to Chinese restaurant workers butchering the cat-like masked palm civet.

In 2011’s Contagion, the cataclysmic pathogen that wiped out characters played by some of Hollywood’s biggest names originated in a fruit bat, much like the real-life NIPAH virus, and transferred through pigs to humans.

America’s borders are not the only ones at risk of viruses arriving in illegal comestibles. An estimated five tons of bushmeat is smuggled in personal luggage every week—through Paris’s Roissy-Charles de Gaulle Airport alone.

Read the full Environment News Service bushmeat story here.

Contagion was produced by TakePart’s parent company, Participant Media.

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