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In a time of Ebola, we must crack down on illegal bush meat imports

Bush meat, derived from monkeys, chimpanzees, rats and other animals, is widely consumed in West Africa and is known to be a source of Ebola. Ebola can be transferred in secretions and blood from bush meat to humans.

This could be a factor in the recent outbreak of Ebola in West Africa, where drought and crop failures have led to increased hunting of bush meat. Several other viruses infecting humans have also been identified in bush meat by the Centers of Disease Control and other institutions.

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It is illegal to import bush meat into the U.S., but it has been confiscated at JFK International Airport in New York and other U.S. ports of entry.

Some of the viruses remain latent in humans for a period of time but may eventually mutate to cause serious disease. An example is the transfer of a virus from chimpanzees to humans several years ago. There is strong evidence a chimpanzee virus mutated to cause of HIV.

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Millions of dollars of bush meat are smuggled into the U.S. every year, and the majority comes from West Africa. Enhanced inspection of luggage and cargo arriving from West African and European ports should be a national priority. Responsibility for border inspection is shared by Customs and Border Protection, Department of Agriculture, Fish and Wildlife Service, Department of Homeland Security and the Food and Drug Administration.

Increased numbers of inspectors and improved coordination among the departments and agencies responsible for protecting the public and animal health are vital in preventing viruses in bush meat from infecting American citizens.

Roger Lawson, Columbia

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