Bushmeat hunting and zoonotic transmission of simian T-lymphotropic virus 1 in Tropical West and Central Africa.
Simian T-lymphotropic virus 1 (STLV-1) enters human populations through contact with nonhuman primate (NHP) bushmeat. We tested whether differences in the extent of contact with STLV-1-infected NHP bushmeat foster regional differences in prevalence of human T-lymphotropic virus 1 (HTLV-1). Using serological and PCR assays, we screened humans and NHPs at two Sub-Saharan African sites where subsistence hunting was expected to be less (Tai region, Cote d'Ivoire [CIV]) or more (Bandundu region, Democratic Republic of the Congo [DRC]) developed. Only 0.7% of human participants were infected with HTLV-1 in CIV (n = 574), and 1.3% of humans were infected in DRC (n = 302). Two of the Ivorian human virus sequences were closely related to simian counterparts, indicating ongoing zoonotic transmission. Multivariate analysis of human demographic parameters and behavior confirmed that participants from CIV were less often exposed to NHPs than participants from DRC through direct contact, e.g., butchering. At the same time, numbers of STLV-1-infected NHPs were higher in CIV (39%; n = 111) than in DRC (23%; n = 39). We conclude that similar ultimate risks of zoonotic STLV-1 transmission-defined as the product of prevalence in local NHP and human rates of contact to fresh NHP carcasses-contribute to the observed comparable rates of HTLV-1 infection in humans in CIV and DRC. We found that young adult men and mature women are most likely exposed to NHPs at both sites. In view of the continued difficulties in controlling zoonotic disease outbreaks, the identification of such groups at high risk of NHP exposure may guide future prevention efforts.IMPORTANCE Multiple studies report a high risk for zoonotic transmission of blood-borne pathogens like retroviruses through contact with NHPs, and this risk seems to be particularly high in tropical Africa. Here, we reveal high levels of exposure to NHP bushmeat in two regions of Western and Central tropical Africa. We provide evidence for continued zoonotic origin of HTLV-1 in humans at CIV, and we found that young men and mature women represent risk groups for zoonotic transmission of pathogens from NHPs. Identifying such risk groups can contribute to mitigation of not only zoonotic STLV-1 transmission but also transmission of any blood-borne pathogen onto humans in Sub-Saharan Africa.