December 22, 2008


Philippines "forced" to admit ebola contamination


International health authorities allegedly had to "force" Philippine officials to publicly declare that a strain of the Ebola virus was found in some dead pigs in the Philippines since May this year.

In a website report by The Wall Street Journal (TWSJ), the discovery of the Ebola-Reston virus was detected as early as May and found in some samples from dead pigs sent from the Philippines citing sources from the World Health Organization (WHO), Office International des Epizooties (OIE) or World Organization for Animal Health and the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) The officials of the three international organizations and the Philippines' Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI) said high rates of sickness and death among livestock have occurred in hog farms near Manila in the middle of 2008.

Scientists from Plum Island Animal Disease Centre in New York detected the presence of several diseases, including a devastating pig virus known as porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS), or blue-ear pig disease.

The centre's experts on October 30 notified officials of the Philippines' Department of Agriculture stating "had further discovered Ebola Reston virus in six of the 28 pig samples sent to the US," TWSJ said.

However, the Philippine government only announced the Ebola Reston contamination announced on December 10 as officials cited "concern for the pork industry and a lack of evidence that humans were in any danger."

TWSJ cited BAI director Davinio Catbagan having said that the Philippine government "first consulted with people in the swine industry and only later notified the Department of Health". Though authorities were aware of the public-health importance of the recent discovery, Catbagan said the outbreak didn't suggest any threat to humans.

The WHO learned of the disease through the Food and Agriculture Organization in late November, the report said.

The news source also quoted that OIE director general Dr Bernard Vallat, as saying that it was "not an easy negotiation" to persuade Philippine authorities to go public with the news.

Vallat reportedly said the pigs may have unlikely died of ebola but the presence of the virus in pigs should be investigated to assess the risk to humans.

On the other hand, international health authorities in response were reported to be preparing an immediate mission to the Philippines after the discovery and also after Philippine authorities asked FAO for help in stopping the spread of Ebola-Reston virus.

Catbagan said the Department of Agriculture has sent requests to the FAO to test an initial 10,000 swine in two quarantined hog farms in northern Luzon.

An additional 94 samples collected from pigs in the affected farms in two provinces have been found to be negative for traces of Ebola-Reston virus when tested at the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine in the Philippines, the statement said.

DA officials have quarantined affected farms, cancelled plans for the country's first official 50,000-tonne pork exports to Singapore, and conducted tests on hog farmers and slaughterhouse workers of affected farms.

They said there have been no signs of human infection in the outbreak but it's unclear whether any infected pigs were sold for consumption. Experts say it could take weeks to determine how the pigs were infected and the threat to humans.

Though "Reston strain" has never caused human illness or death so far, unlike the more-deadly strains of Ebola virus, health officials said it is too early to rule out a possible threat to humans.

The WHO, in the TWSJ report, said the Philippine discovery is significant since pigs have served as genetic vessels for viruses that pass from animals to humans.

TWSJ quoted Peter Cordingley, WHO Western Pacific spokesman, having been concerned of the virus' jump from monkeys to pigs and pigs are closer to humans.

The TWSJ report said that the Ebola virus comes in five distinct strains, three of which are associated with the high-fatality outbreaks that first appeared in the Congo in 1976.

The report said that scientists in 1989 discovered the Reston strain among monkeys imported from the Philippines and kept for research in a lab in Reston, Virginia, USA. A handful of humans were reportedly infected in that case, but only one person showed any symptoms, and fully recovered.

According to WHO, the Ebola-Reston virus can be identified only by laboratory testing, and anyone eating pork even from healthy pigs should cook the meat thoroughly. Meat from a sick animal should never be eaten, said WHO.

According to the FAO, the Ebola Reston virus is transmitted by air, unlike African strains of the virus which are transmitted through direct contact with bodily fluids, said the TWSJ report.

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