Myths Abound

Choose a myth that you can imagine circulating in your own community, imagine that you have just overheard a conversation in which someone was repeating that myth, and write out a “script” that you might use in helping to clear things up.

“HIV was introduced into the human population by Africans who had sex with monkeys”

If you search the internet for information about monkeys and humans in Africa, there is a vast amount of information regarding bush meat hunters, who continue today, to hunt wild animals using both guns and traps [2].  In Cameroon today, large numbers of these animal carcasses are transported to the capital of Yaounde by train from remote areas [1].

In many places people rely on hunting.  Poor families may get almost all of their protein from hunted animals, and need to trade some of their catch for a source of income [2].  Primate flesh is rare and expensive in today’s markets [1].

HIV-AIDS researchers in Africa often encounter bush meat hunters and observe close contact between the hunters and bloodied animals during butchering [3].  However, it is very difficult to find any literature (reputable or otherwise) that provides evidence of sexual contact between humans and primates, which are often very aggressive [2, 4], making the idea of sexual contact even less likely.

There is scientific evidence that HIV is a descendant from SIVcpz, which infects chimpanzees [5, 6].  This categorises HIV as a zoonosis [6], meaning an infection which can transmit between animals and humans, and most viruses infecting humans originated in animals [3].  Cross-species transmission of viruses between animals and humans is thought to occur regularly [5] and across the globe, wherever humans have contact with domestic or wild animals, especially where people living in poverty are more likely to have close contact with livestock and wild animals [7].

When Beatrice Hahn presented her findings about SIVcpz, she showed photographs of chimps that had been slaughtered in a presentation to 5000 scientists in Chicago, where people source their meat from supermarkets and restaurants.  Her audience were horrified, and New York Times Magazine compared this hunting to cannabilism [9, 10].  The “sex with monkeys” theory seems an extension of this horror, which has no place in an objective analysis of the facts.

Most HIV infection occurs via sexual transmission, but “contact between broken skin, wounds, or mucous membranes and HIV-infected blood or blood-contaminated body fluids” is also a possible transmission route [8].

The evidence of HIV originating from the infected blood of primates in contact with humans, is strong.  However, the contact is overwhelmingly likely due to bush hunting practises.

References:

1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FDMFuOGyLsw

2. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HOe_4lTRhU0

3.  http://www.ted.com/talks/nathan_wolfe_hunts_for_the_next_aids.html

4.  http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=why-would-a-chimpanzee-at

5.  http://www.avert.org/origin-aids-hiv.htm

6.  http://www.prn.org/index.php/progression/article/origin_of_the_aids_pandemic_58

7.  http://r4d.dfid.gov.uk/pdf/outputs/livestock/zoomapdfidreport18june2012finalsm.pdf

8.  http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/topics/basic/#spread

9.  http://www.thebody.com/content/art2761.html

10. http://www.nytimes.com/2003/06/15/books/almost-cannibalism.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm

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