A total of 68 types of viruses have been found in Lao wildlife, with trade and consumption of wild animals remaining widespread.

The results of the analytical survey of the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), which began conducting the Emerging Pandemic Threats Programme (PREDICT) in Laos in 2010, was revealed at a meeting held on Friday in Vientiane to review the work of the project.

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The project received the support from United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and has observed wildlife trade at 93 sites between 2010 and 2013.

During the project, the experts collected 10,609 samples from 2,593 species of animals in places where contact between humans and wildlife was frequent, in particular wildlife markets and villages with residents hunting wildlife.

Of the 68 viruses, 39 are coronaviruses, 25 are astroviruses, three are herpes viruses and one is simian foamy virus.

Coronaviruses and astroviruses were found in bats, while herpes viruses and the simian foamy virus had been found in primates.

Coronavirus was found in bats displayed for sale in Kasy town market, Vangvieng market and Meuangfeuang market of Vientiane province, as well as Khok village in Khammuan province.

Meanwhile, astrovirus was found in bats displayed in Vangvieng market, Feuang district of Vientiane province. The virus was also found in animals displayed at Phonsavanh agriculture market of Xieng Khuang province, Nhommalath district market of Khammuan province, as well as in Saravan province.

Astrovirus was also found in a giant rat at Khoksa-at market, Khammuan province.

Herpes and simian foamy viruses were found in primates at Bankeun Zoo, with some of the primates being given to monks to care for however, were later on handed over to the zoo.

The survey also found three viruses for the first time under the family of betacoronaviruses, with PREDICT_CoV-22, PREDICT_CoV-23 and PREDICT_CoV-56 being given as their names.

The survey also found that despite the government’s Wildlife and Aquatic Law to regulate theses issues, bush meat trade remains widespread throughout the country with eight wildlife markets dedicated to the sale of birds, mammals and reptiles.

More than 33,000 carcasses, or more than 15,000kg biomass of wildlife, were observed to be on sale after over 376 surveys were conducted. However, experts said that this only represented a fraction of the trade.

A wildlife veterinarian from WCS, Dr Zoe Greatorex, said none of the viruses were considered to pose a serious human health risk at this time, unlike viruses such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), Avian influenza and Ebola.

Dr Greatorex said despite viruses, which could pose a serious danger to human health not being found in the survey, it did not mean they were absent in the country as the samples for the survey were limited due to a number of traders refusing to cooperate and provide samples of their bush meat. Wildlife officials also only had a small quantity of confiscated wildlife.

This means that results found were inconclusive due to the insufficient amount of samples.

Ministry of Health’s Department of Communicable Disease Control Director General Dr Bounlay Phommasak, National Animal Health Laboratory Head Dr Boulom Duangngeun and WCS Deputy Director Mr Alex McWilliams reminded the public that diseases such as SARS coronavirus, HIV, Ebola and Nipah virus all originated in wildlife, especially in bats and primates.

“In fact, 72 percent of emerging zoonotic diseases originated in wildlife. This means that wildlife is a very significant source of new human diseases,” according to the meeting’s press release.

Source: Vientiane Times
By Somxay Sengdara
Published on September 08, 2014