PATHOGENS such as a bacterium which causes the potentially lethal leptospirosis disease, salmonella, and an organism that can lead to heart conditions which can end in death, have been found in local wildlife which is consumed by the population as “wild meat.”
This was disclosed by director of veterinary public health Dr Saed Rahaman as he addressed the Health Ministry’s covid19 media briefing on Friday.
The natural reservoir for the covid19 virus is strongly believed to be bats, and the disease was first recorded as coming from a “wet market” (where animals are slaughtered on the spot for sale) in Wuhan, China.
Asked about studies of possible viruses in local wildlife, especially species that people eat, Rahaman said studies are being done at the University of the West Indies by lecturer in anatomical pathology Dr Rod Suepaul and other researchers.
Rahaman said there have been wild meat studies in the past, particularly for the pathogen
Trypanosoma cruzi, which causes heart disease in humans and which is passed on to wild animals by the bite of an infected bug called the “kissing bug.” The pathogen is then passed on to humans who eat the wild animal. A pathogen is any bacterium, virus or other microorganism that causes disease.
Rahaman said, “We have found positive (infected) animals in the past. So there is some evidence of wild animals carrying many of these diseases.”
He disclosed that leptospira (the bacteria which causes leptospirosis) is found in the carcasses of all wildlife, especially when they are not eviscerated or gutted properly at slaughter. He pointed out, “This can be one of the serious conditions.”
Gastrointestinal parasites like salmonella are present in many of the local wild species and also present a particular health risk.
Rahaman said as the hunting season is closed by law, the sale of wild meat is prohibited at this time. He added that the authorities will be looking to reopen the hunting season later this year – the season begins on October 1 and ends on the last day of February. He revealed also that a draft policy has been prepared on the sale and consumption of wild meat but has to be approved.
Rahaman said many people live off hunting and it is an important pastime in rural communities. “It is something that we have to get their (hunters’) input into,” Rahaman said. “However, let’s be clear that from a food-safety standpoint, wild meat presents a very unique challenge.”
He said animals shot in the field are not properly “dressed” and there is no inspection ante-mortem (before death) or post-mortem (after death). He also explained that carcasses have a lot of bruises and they do not bleed properly, which allows for rapid spoilage.
Rahaman said even the lead from the ammunition used in hunting is toxic. He said research in the rural communities of other countries on the use of lead in ammunition used in hunting showed it predisposed certain populations, especially children, to lead poisoning.
In the public health ordinance, under the sale of fresh meat, he said, “wild meat” is not mentioned as a commodity that can be sold, yet it is still entering the market and is being sold. “So it is a unique situation that needs to be looked at.” Animals consumed as wild meat in TT include agouti, lappe, tatou (armadillo), wild hog (quenk), deer and manicou.