Ebola virus in pigs may be harmful to humans: expert

PANGASINAN — A team of international health experts are in the country for a 10-day research mission to look into the possible effect of Ebola Reston virus strain to humans.

The team said the investigation will determine whether the Ebola Reston virus recently discovered in pigs poses a threat to human health.

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About a dozen experts from the United Nations (UN), the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Organization for Animal Health (WOAH) were invited to Manila to help the government investigate the virus, first identified in October in the northern Philippines.

The discovery not only marked the first time the virus has been found outside of monkeys, but also the first time it has been found in swine.

Those factors make the mission “particularly important,” said a joint statement by the investigating organizations.

“We hope to identify the risks certainly for animal health and human health, if there are any,” said Dr. Juan Lubroth of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization and head of the Manila mission.

Authorities said the Ebola Reston virus – first discovered among crab-eating monkeys south of Manila in 1989 – has caused no known illness among humans.

Ebola’s three other subtypes – the Zaire, Sudan and Cote d’Ivoire strains – can cause deadly hemorrhagic fever in humans, according to WHO.

The 10-day research mission, which started Tuesday, will focus on the source of the virus, how it is transmitted, its virulence, its natural habitat, and the best way to identify it, the experts said.

The Ebola Reston virus was discovered in October while tests were being conducted on samples from pigs that died of another swine disease at two farms in the northern Philippines.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said the two farms in northern Bulacan and Pangasinan provinces, which have nearly 10,000 pigs, are under quarantine.

Tests in late December on pig samples from the farms were negative of the virus, and no pigs have died of the disease or shown any signs of illness, he said. Bureau of Animal Industry Director Davinio Catbagan said the foreign team would verify the results with the slaughter of about 140 pigs.

“If we do not see the virus on these tissue samples, we can decide to lift the quarantine, and later on (proceed) to a wider surveillance,” he said.

In Lingayen township, another team of the foreign experts proceeded to the Lambino piggery, which was closed by an outbreak of the Ebola Reston virus late last year, located in the village Parian.

The team include William White, senior staff veterinarian of the Foreign Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory at the Plum Island Animal Disease Center in the US; Borris Pavlin, epidemiologist of the WHO communication disease surveillance and response department; and Dr. Kate Glynn of OIE and Mario Musa, communications advisors of the Crisis Management Center-Animal Health Emergency Operations and Rehabilitation Division of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN.

Dr. Glynn told Sun.Star that they will evaluate the country’s capacity to deal with Ebola Reston Virus and other zoonotic diseases, and develop protocols, which will guide national response to similar occurrence. (Liway C. Manantan-Yparraguirre/AP/Sunnex)

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