Christian Long

Nathan Wolfe: Hunts for the Next AIDS

In TED Talks on April 26, 2010 at 11:10 am

Reflection by CONNOR S.

Original TED page w/ speaker bio, links, comments, etc:

Nathan Wolfe:  Hunts for the Next AIDS

Nathan Wolfe’s jungle expedition in Cameroon has given us valuable information in the emergence of new viruses, and how they are getting transmitted to the human population. While most people may despair that the majority of species have been discovered, that is most certainly not the case. Wolfe has discovered multiple viruses in the jungles of Cameroon, including retroviruses (the type of virus HIV is) and a form of pox. Wolfe has also discovered what may be one of the major ways that viruses jump from animals to humans.

Wolfe has hypothesized that one of the ways that viruses are starting to jump from animals to humans is through the hunting of bush-meat.

While the existence of AIDS and HIV were discovered in the 1980s, Wolfe believes that the disease had already been in thousands of individuals by 1929. It is disappointing that we were not aware of the virus earlier, and had not done anything to stop AIDS from escalating into a pandemic. Now, Wolfe and his group of researchers are searching for viruses and how they are being transmitted in the jungles of Cameroon. Wolfe’s team has enlisted thousands of individuals to collect bush-meat blood in order to identify what diseases are in the animals that are actually being hunted; the animals where blood contact occurs. A small scratch or bite can allow blood contact to occur, and blood contact is one of the major ways viruses can transmit. These specimens are also retrieved on a regular basis, not just once where you will never see a change.

With the knowledge that HIV entered our population this way, Wolfe has dedicated himself to finding a solution to prevent other viruses from doing the same.

Wolfe believes that it is not the bush-meat hunters’ fault that these diseases are being transmitted, as most quick to blame humans would assume. People need to take responsibility and help these communities in poverty, and as a result we could stop the hunting of endangered species and the transmittal of viruses through bush-meat. In order to prevent this, Wolfe’s team picked out 17 sites in Africa and has been earning the trust of the natives in order to collect specimens and warn them of the dangers of bushmeat. Wolfe’s team is now able to monitor the transmission of viruses to humans directly. Retroviruses could pose problems for the world if not acted upon, but with the discovery of two retroviruses as well as a form of pox, Wolfe and other scientists can now work to prevent them before they become a full scale pandemic that escapes Central Africa and plagues the entire world.

With the advent of new technology and awareness, Wolfe’s team has been able to make many discoveries about viruses and diseases and their transmissions. With the tools now available to mankind, these discoveries can be made and we can better understand how they work, and as a result stop them, and hopefully avoid another pandemic like AIDS.

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