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New Virus Jumped from Monkeys Just Like HIV

Scientists now agree that HIV started in Africa from people eating dead monkeys--or "bushmeat"--that had the disease. The virus then mutated into a form that can infect human beings. Now researchers say it's happening again in Africa with a brand-new virus. Will this one be as deadly as AIDS?

Andy Coghlan writes in New Scientist that once again, the virus jumped from monkeys to man from the eating of bushmeat. It was once thought that such a mutation was rare, but now scientists think it may be common. "Our research shows the transmission of retroviruses to humans is not limited to a few, isolated occurrences like those that gave rise to HIV," says researcher Nathan Wolfe. "It's a regular phenomenon, and a cause for concern."

Wolfe screened 1800 people from nine rural communities in Cameroon for the new virus. Ten of them who said they?d been exposed to the blood or body fluids of primates tested positive for the new virus. Wolfe thinks viruses infect humans through cuts they receive when they prepare the meat.

One way to reduce this transmission would be to provide food for native people who would otherwise have to hunt and eat primates. Wolfe says, "It would help conserve endangered species and lower the potential for transmission of viruses to people." However, the illegal importation of bushmeat to London, where there are many African immigrants who consider it a delicacy, shows that some people will probably eat it anyway.

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