Vigilance cautioned on Ebola Reston contamination in Philippine hogs
Despite the government's declaration this weekend that quarantined hogs were negative for the ebola virus and the contagion is no cause for an alarm, the Philippine Department of Agriculture (DA) is still keeping a tight watch on the movement and trade of pork and the immediate seizure of so-called double dead meat.
Although Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap has declared on Saturday (December 13) that the 49 hogs quarantined in four different piggeries are free from the deadly Ebola strain, he mandated the Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI) and the National Meat Inspection Service (NMIS) to tightly implement DA Administrative Orders No.28 and 32, which cover guidelines on the movement and slaughter of animals.
Meat that comes from an animal that died of infection is considered double-dead.
Yap also ordered the two agencies to reinforce the more than 50 veterinary quarantine checkpoints all over Luzon, particularly to the provinces where the virus had been found.
The Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) declared that the contaminated hogs have all tested negative for the deadly virus, stating that the case may be "isolated" considering the strain has not spread and no additional cases has been reported to date.
Besides tissue samples taken from pigs in the affected areas, Yap said tests were also done on the handlers in the farms where the virus originated; and even the butchers in the slaughterhouses where the animals were usually sent, as a precautionary measure. All the tests conducted on human samples yielded negative results for the presence of the Reston virus, he said.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque maintained that there is no "cause for alarm" adding that the strain is an "animal health problem, is non-pathogenic and not a human health concern."
To stamp out a possible outbreak, the DA plans to establish a laboratory to check the presence of the virus among swine and give a support package to help livestock growers whose infected hogs will be culled or destroyed by BAI.
Authorities say the Reston virus is entirely different from the three other Ebola subtypes, which are all potentially fatal to humans. Unlike the Zaire, Ivory Coast and Sudan strains, the Reston strain has not been found to be fatal like the three other strains or to have caused illnesses to humans in contact with the infected animals. It was first discovered in the Philippines in 1989 among crab-eating macaques or monkeys then being exported by the Laguna-based Ferlite Farms to the Hazleton Laboratories in Reston, Virginia.
Executives of international health institutions such as the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the Office International des Epizooties (OIE) or World Animal Health Organization consider the presence of the Reston virus in the Philippines as an "animal health issue and does not consider this a significant public health concern at this time."
WHO experts led by Dr. Nyunt and Dr. Julie Hall, team leader of its Emerging Infectious Diseases Division, have confirmed during the December 10 consultative meeting at the DA that, based on historical evidence, the Reston virus has been found to be "non-pathogenic" and does not cause illnesses to humans in the past.
The experts also concluded consumers should be worried of normal bacteria and parasites for undercooked pork and not of the Reston virus.
Albert Lim of the National Federation of Hog Farmers, Inc said that while pork is safe to eat, consumers should only buy from vendors with NMIS certification to assure them of safe pork. He warns that eating double-dead meat is "can make one vulnerable to many kinds of diseases because you get exposed to many bacteria."