Ebola, IBD, Boas & Herpetoculture: The Ugly Truth

Boa Constrictor Close upI am not one for conspiracy theories. I really don’t know personally if the Kennedy assassination was a Lee Harvey Oswald or if there were multiple shooters. I wasn’t even thought of President Kennedy lost his life that day. Today there are thousands of conspiracy theories in circulation from Area 51 and Alien abduction to Bigfoot and global warming. I have my own personal opinions on all of these but that has nothing to do with herpetoculture.

Yesterday and today there has been a rash of articles from science bloggers covering a disease that has been impacting herpetoculture for over twenty years now. Inclusion Body Disease more commonly referred to as IBD in the reptile community is primarily found in Boidae family of snakes which includes boas, pythons, and anacondas. So far IBD has only been seen in Burmese Python, Indian Python, Reticulated Python, ball python, and boa constrictors. So why the sudden interest to the science community regarding a disease that has been around for over twenty years?

Well truth is this. On August 14th a paper titled “Identification, Characterization, and In Vitro Culture of Highly Divergent Arenaviruses from Boa Constrictors and Annulated Tree Boas: Candidate Etiological Agents for Snake Inclusion Body Disease” Published by the American Society for Microbiology. Many “journalists” have snapped this up as seemingly another way to increase the fear of snakes and zoonosis using the papers statement of IBD being related to Arenaviruses which appear to be a combination of multiple viruses; when seen in humans can cause Lassa fever and Ebola. So is this another scare tactic that will be used against herpetoculture? It would certainly seem so as one ‘journalist’ wrote “So far the disease seems to be restricted to captive snakes but some scientists are worried that the release of captive bred or rehabilitated snakes might unwittingly unleash this devastating virus into the wild.

Just so we are clear, the connection is one which the scientist himself stated was not one that is zoonotic. What are your thoughts on this new set of articles taking the internet by storm? Let us know in the Herptofauna Forums. Exclusive Update: We’ve just interviewed the scientists that wrote the original paper and the interview is now in The Reptile Living Room.

Direct from email sent to me by Dr. DeRisi.
From our pathologist in Sacramento:

“…I have 1850 snakes in the database since 1997 (earlier are not computerized). 834 are boids (boas and pythons), so 45%. Of these I have 193 positive IBD cases (23%), 147 are boas and 46 are pythons…”