BOSTON — Billions of animals come into the United States every decade, but few of them are ever tested for disease. That is worrisome, if the results of a scientific study published Tuesday are any guide.
Scientists took random samples from "bushmeat," meat from African wild animals, and found evidence of numerous diseases including a nonhuman form of herpes.
"Scientists estimate that some 75 percent of emerging infectious diseases affecting people have come from contact with wildlife," the BBC reported. "Some of this is the result of animals biting humans, but the handling and consumption of infected meats is also considered a significant route of transmission."
The infected meat originated in Guinea, Nigeria, and Liberia, and was destined for locations as disparate as Staten Island, Philadelphia, and Dallas. But it came through a single point of entry: New York City's JFK Airport in Queens.
"Hunting and butchering of bushmeat ... has been increasingly recognized as a source of disease emergence," the scientists wrote in the study, "Zoonotic Viruses Associated with Illegally Imported Wildlife Products," which was conducted in conjunction with the CDC and was published in the journal PLoS ONE.
The authors noted numerous viruses, including SARS, emerged as a result of "trade in live animals and animal products."
Time Magazine's EcoCentric blog noted the dangers that could be posed by the threats indicated in this pilot study: "Think SARS, avian flu, swine flu, Ebola — all of them began in animals before somehow mutating and spreading to people."
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