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Cancer Detect Prev. 1994;18(1):9-30.

Poultry oncogenic retroviruses and humans.

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Environmental and Molecular Epidemiology Section, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, National Institutes of Health, Research Triangle Park, NC 27709.


Viruses of the avian leukosis/sarcoma group (ALSV) and reticuloendotheliosis viruses (REV) are highly prevalent in chickens and turkeys and naturally cause tumors in them. Commercial chickens are positive for antibodies, and a proportion actually carry infectious virus. Virus may be present in chicken products and in eggs, thus human exposure is virtually universal. The viruses show little potential for producing infectious viral particles in mammalian cells; nevertheless, they have the capacity to infect and transform mammalian cells (including human cells) in vitro, and to induce tumors in a variety of mammals, including primates. Most, but not all, of the serological studies in humans have been negative. Given the known behavior of these viruses in mammals, this was not unexpected. Moreover, there were methodological problems with most of the studies. There is some epidemiological evidence associating putative poultry exposure with cancer in humans. However, this has not been rigorously investigated. This paper is a comprehensive review of the extent of the carcinogenic potential these viruses show for humans. It is concluded, virological evidence indicates, that these viruses could conceivably have a carcinogenic potential for humans, but if so, at a level much less than in chickens. Whether this is insignificant, or translates to a real risk, is not known at the moment. Therefore, there is a need for definitive studies to completely rule out this possibility.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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