Abstract: Due to the high level of biological diversity in the Congo Basin and human population dependence on bushmeat, the DRC represents an ideal location for expanding knowledge on wild animal exposures and thus the potential for transmission of zoonotic pathogens. However, limited information exists on patterns and extent of contact with wildlife in such communities. Using a cross-sectional study, 14 villages in the Sankuru Province of the DRC were surveyed between August and September 2007. Villagers 1 year of age and at home of the time of the survey were eligible and enrolled to describe and assess factors associated with animal exposures (both activity and type of animal). Among respondents, 91% reported exposure to rodents, 89% to duikers, 78% to non-human primates (NHPs), and 32% reported contact with bats in the month prior to the survey. The most frequently reported activities included eating (95%), cooking (70%), and butchering or skinning of animals (55%). The activities and animals to which subjects had contact varied by sex and age. Moreover, we observed a high correlation of the same activities across animal types. In this and other populations that rely on bushmeat, there is a high frequency of exposure to multiple animal species through various modalities. In the event of future zoonotic disease outbreaks, effective public health interventions and campaigns that mitigate the risk of animal contact during outbreaks need to be broad to include various modes of contact and should be directed to both men and women across all age groups. As available information is limited, further studies are necessary to better understand the complex relationships and exposures individuals have with animals.
Keywords: Zoonosis, Wild animal exposure, Hunting, Butchering, Emerging infections, Spillover
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