US virus fears as rare pets flood in

Margaret Ebrahim,John Solomon
Tuesday 28 November 2006 01:00

Exotic animals captured in the wild to satisfy children's cravings for the trendiest pets are streaming into the US,with little or no screening for disease.

More than 650 million wild animals - from kangaroos to tropical fish - were imported legally into the US in the past three years, according to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, but countless more pets - along with animal parts and meat - are part of a $10bn-a-year (£5bn) black market.

Demand for such wildlife is also booming as zoos and research scientists seek to fill their cages.

Most wildlife arrives with no quarantine and minimal screening for disease, and there are only 120 full-time inspectors - who do not have to be trained to detect diseases - to record and inspect arriving animals.

"A wild animal will be in the bush, and in less than a week it's in a little girl's bedroom," said Darin Carroll, a disease hunter with the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

Zoonotic diseases - those that transfer from animals to humans - account for three quarters of all emerging infectious threats, the CDC says, and five of the six diseases that the agency regards as top threats to national security are zoonotic.

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