Tuesday 26 May, 2020

UWI doing studies on diseases spread by local wild animals

Dr Saed Rahaman, Director of Veterinary Public Health at the Ministry of Health, said the University of the West Indies is doing studies into the presence of pathogens in local wild animals.

Dr Rahaman said previous studies have shown the presence of leptospira in wild animals, which, if not cleaned and cooked properly, can spread to humans.

“We are currently conducting studies at the University of the West Indies, we have researchers working on wild meat and some of the pathogens that they carry."

“We have had wild meat studies in the past particularly with trypanosoma cruzi, it causes heart conditions in humans and we have found this is carried from wild animals through the ‘kissing bug’, and we have found positive animals in the past."

“There is some evidence of wild animals carrying diseases. With regard to leptospirosis, all of these animals do carry leptospira in their carcasses and especially when they are not eviscerated or gutted properly at capture this can be one of the serious conditions."

“Gastrointestinal parasites like salmonella are present in many wild species and they also present a particular risk.”

Dr Rahaman said they are currently creating a policy for the sale and consumption of local wild meat, which is pending approval from stakeholders.

"From a food safety standpoint, wild meat presents a unique challenge. Animals are shot at field and they are not properly dressed, neither is there (any) inspection of those animals. Frequently these animal carcasses have a lot of bruises and they do not bleed properly which allows rapid spoilage."

He added that there is the presence of lead from the pellets which are used to kill the animals, which could be toxic.

He said public discussions will be held moving forward. 

Dr Christine Carrington, Professor of Molecular Genetics and Virology and Head of the Department of Preclinical Sciences, Faculty of Medical Sciences at the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine, said in a previous media briefing that the spread of the novel coronavirus was thought to have been transmitted to humans from bats.

She said human interference in the habitats of wild animals could result in the spread of diseases.

“The real risk comes from wild animals. All the wild animals out there that have a lot of viruses in them. When we encroach on them or we consume them or we butcher them, there’s always the chance of getting infected by viruses that they carry.”

“The problem is our encroachment into their habitats and our destruction of their habitats. What we’re doing is creating more opportunities for viruses to jump from animal populations into human populations.”

Armadillos, locally known as tattoos, are a popular wild meat option and can carry leptospirosis and leprosy.

According to Smithsonian, armadillos are the only other animals besides humans to host the leprosy bacillus.

Leptospirosis is a bacterial infection obtained from animals including cattle, sheep, goats and deer. Without treatment, Leptospirosis can lead to kidney damage, meningitis (inflammation of the membrane around the brain and spinal cord), liver failure, respiratory distress, and even death.

Leprosy (Hansen's disease) is an infectious disease which can affect the nerves of hands, feet, nose, skin and respiratory tract.

In 2011, the New England Journal of Medicine published an article formally linked the creature to human leprosy cases—people and armadillos tested in the study both shared the same exact strain of the disease.  

Studies have shown that red howler monkeys can also become infected by malaria and yellow fever which are transmitted via mosquitos. Red howler monkeys are protected by law. 

Hunting is prohibited by law from March 1st to September 30th each year. 

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