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June 12th, 2008
05:21 PM ET

Anderson's View: Investigating disease deep in the jungle

Anderson Cooper

It's been a fascinating couple of days. I just got back to Yaounde, the capital of Cameroon. We've been in a small village deep in the forest about a six-hour drive from here.

We spent a long day with two hunters searching for food. They didn't find anything. The bush meat trade in central Africa has depleted forests significantly; it's harder and harder for people to find food, and that means they have to push deeper into the forest. The destruction of habitat and animal species, however, is only part of the story that brought us here.

I went into the forest following the hunters with Nathan Wolfe, an epidemiologist with UCLA. He searches some of the world's most remote regions for viruses that could become the next deadly pandemic. Wolfe and his team focus on Zoonotic diseases, caused by viruses jumping from animals to humans.

Some of the most well known Zoonotics are Malaria, Smallpox, West Nile, SARS, Ebola, Avian Influenza, and of course, HIV. But Wolfe and his team have discovered that viruses jump from animals to humans far more than previously realized.

It's so strange to walk in the forest in Cameroon. After all, scientists have now determined that it was in this country's forests that HIV was unleashed. I had always heard that HIV started in monkeys, but I hadn't known much about the way it was transmitted to humans.

It's now believed that it all started with a chimpanzee in Cameroon. The chimp was likely infected by eating smaller monkeys which carried forms of the virus. The chimp's blood likely came in contact with the hunter who killed it, or the person who prepared the dead chimp for cooking. Once it made the jump to humans, the virus likely existed in this region for decades, relatively isolated in small human populations.

As roads increased however, and air travel became more common, it spread to other countries. Though HIV didn't start making headlines in the United States and other parts of the world until the early 1980's, scientists know it was around for decades before that here in central Africa.

Nathan Wolfe does a lot of research and prevention work on HIV, but he and his team are really trying to set up an early warning system for other potentially deadly viruses. He informs hunters about the danger of coming in contact with the blood of wild animals, particularly primates, and has enlisted a network of hunters who collect blood specimens of the animals they kill. The blood is tested and they have already discovered new viruses that potentially put people at risk.

The work is incredibly tough. The living conditions in the forest are difficult, to say the least, and after spending the past two days with Wolfe and his team, I have the utmost respect for what they are trying to do.

In the coming days we're heading to investigate an outbreak of another sometimes deadly virus, called monkeypox. You may remember it showed up a couple years ago in the United States, when some people imported prairie dogs that carried the virus. In central Africa, however, monkeypox is a much more serious problem, and we are heading to the frontline in the fight against it.

We've also heard about another strange disease that is infecting people, and scientists aren't exactly sure what is causing it. Could it be a Zoonotic, a virus that has originally come from an animal? Or is it something else, something in the environment? We hope to find out in the days ahead.


Filed under: Anderson Cooper • Planet in Peril
soundoff (69 Responses)
  1. Betty Ann, Nacogdoches,TX

    Hi Anerson,
    It looks like it is "out of Africa again." It is interesting to me that in the very place where man began and stood upright also cometh the deadly diseases which cross~over to humans. Intriquing to the mind to say the least.
    Since everyone has already told you to be careful and how much they appreciate your work for the planet in peril,I just want to reiterate "ditto" from me.
    The pic Jeff took of you looks great! You've been pumping iron!
    Remember if all else fails, catch up with Neil and Phil. They've got the booze! 😉
    In the meantime, AC/360 is not the same without you!
    Now, don't you feel loved?
    Thanks for taking time to blog!
    Your news fan,
    Betty Ann

    June 13, 2008 at 10:51 am |
  2. Julie San Diego, CA

    Minou,

    Good point about viruses evolving. One of my friends did research on AIDS in the '80's and he explained that currently the AIDS virus is anaerobic, meaning it dies in an oxygenated environment (when exposed to air). One of the reasons it took so long for us to understand the virus is because initially the researchers who were investigating it were trying to culture it in a petri dish and it kept dying because it was exposed to oxygen.

    If the virus evolves so that it can survive in air, we are all in big trouble because it will be "catchy" like the common cold.

    June 13, 2008 at 10:29 am |
  3. Dee Stevens

    The photo journalism of AC in the jungles and bush country are very well done. Part two of Planet in Peril is prize winning the way this is being covered. The documentary that is scheduled to air in the fall is worth watching. I can understand why your fans are concerned about you. May God watch over you to be safe, sound and healthy. You are beginning to look like Tarzan, don't you think? Anderson you should keep a journal each day of your experiences on this trip. Have a safe trip home.

    June 13, 2008 at 9:53 am |
  4. Cat

    Thank you for the report.

    I'm taking a health class and we had a heated debate about HIV started with humans. The public believes so many superstitions, rumours and urban legends about HIV and AIDS. Now, I'll have some facts to back up my statements.

    Be careful out there, AC.

    June 13, 2008 at 9:49 am |
  5. michelle: Ont,Canada

    Anderson

    Hi just another blogger from Canada checking in a day late any way,i'm a huge fan of your and I love the photos behind the scenes.
    You look great and and stay safe I miss you on Ac 360 .

    I look forward to more of your reporting from there soon!
    Bye:Michelle D.
    Ontario,Canada.

    June 13, 2008 at 9:46 am |
  6. Dee Stevens

    The photo journalism of AC in the jungles and bush country are very well done. Part two of Planet in Peril is prize winning the way this is being covered. The documentary that is scheduled to air in the fall is worth watching. I can understand why your fans are concerned about you. May God watch over you to be safe, sound and healthy. You are beginning to look like Tarzan, don't you think? Anderson you should keep a journal each day of your experiences on this trip.

    June 13, 2008 at 9:44 am |
  7. anne newfoundland,canada

    Anderson:

    good to see you back on the blog once more.

    Hope you got some rest,if possible.

    I wish they had been showing more of your reports on the program all this week,so I hope we get to see them when you get back.

    I cannot wait to see PIP 2,all Jeff's photos are amazing!

    Any chance we can get some blog posts from Charlie?

    Please,all of you,stay safe.

    Take care of yourselves.

    June 13, 2008 at 8:39 am |
  8. kashmira

    Dear Anderson, Please take care out there. Please don;t eat any
    meat out there. Ihope you were vaccinated. Please come back
    soon. I know you love your job. I worry about you.
    Love,
    Kashmira

    June 13, 2008 at 6:37 am |
  9. lpfoong, Malaysia

    It's about time we know more of this impending issue. We only get bits and piece here and there, inciting temporary fears but forgotten in a week. This is such an important and extensive subject matter that deserves more exposure.
    So it's great that you are looking into this as one of the priority issues.
    Thank you.
    So, is this the price, one of many... we all have to pay in the name of 'progress' and to satisfy our 'excessive society'?
    Whatever we want to call it...cause and effect, check and balance...things are spiralling out of contol due to greed and over-consumption. It's coming back full circle, and it's not pretty.
    Stay safe, all of you!

    June 13, 2008 at 5:37 am |
  10. Sarah, Canterbury - UK

    Hi Anderson

    I guess the other side of the coin is that there also maybe within these forests, plants and organisms that may provide cures in the future.

    This must be a facinating journey to be undertaking.

    June 13, 2008 at 4:55 am |
  11. Rekha Joy Raman

    Dear Anderson,

    Please stay safe and be careful about the food you eat and drinking water. My prayers are always with you. I pray for your safe return.

    June 13, 2008 at 2:02 am |
  12. jackie Chino Hills, CA

    from the looks of things so far, so looks to be like another successful and exciting special. i love learning and just reading the blog has me all fascinated and longing for more. being that it's tough work out there, do you have get a lot of shots before the trip for protection? and since you're finding new viruses, how to you protect yourself against those?

    June 13, 2008 at 1:19 am |
  13. Rekha Joy Raman

    Dear Andy,

    Please stay safe and be careful about the food you eat and drinking water. My prayers are always with you. I pray for your safe return.

    June 13, 2008 at 1:18 am |
  14. lashika

    i still don't understand the purpose of wolfe's research, what is the purpose, has he checked all other forests in Africa before coming to the conclusion that AIDS started in this particular forest?

    June 13, 2008 at 12:59 am |
  15. sarah B....Durham,NC

    hi Anderson....PIP is just yet another reason why i think CNN is the elite network for news, whether it be in our country or another hemisphere!!~...i applaud Nathan Wolfe and anyone who does such prodigious research which in turn paves the path for finding cures, avoiding another epidemic outbreak that could be devastating to us ALL, or to enable others to branch out on his work, educate, or possibly make a discovery that could change the WORLD!!~~.... your diligence is commendable for you all who put yourselves out there in a vulnerable situation to inform the rest of us on issues that are not prevalent in our everyday lives here.....and i say thank you very much!!~

    June 12, 2008 at 11:43 pm |
  16. N, Southeast Asia

    Anderson,

    I guess I am lagging way behind your seas of fans. I only learn that you're in Cameroon today. In my part of the world I only get to see you on friday, thats the only day I'm not at work when you're on. Time different sucks, I know. Stay safe and looking forward to seeing more of you and your informative report! God Bless!

    June 12, 2008 at 11:23 pm |
  17. penny

    Hi Anderson,
    "Keep Africa beautiful and stay safe there!!!

    June 12, 2008 at 11:16 pm |
  18. Bren from Atlanta

    Anderson, Loved the slide show from the PIP2. I hope you will one day publish a book of the still shots. Pls. be careful of the animals and the rebels hiding in the woods. Remember the body fluids and skat are true viral borne carriers and monkeys throw crap...no pun intended and they aim for the eyes! You are definitely in rebel territory. You are all in my prayers... Bren in Atlanta from MSF (Doctors w/o Borders

    June 12, 2008 at 10:59 pm |
  19. winarni, jakarta

    Interesting and unique reports and risky too. Be safe n my salute to Mr.Wolfe and all PIP2 team.

    June 12, 2008 at 10:50 pm |
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