Manila/Roma, 23 December 2008 - Following the detection of the Ebola-Reston virus in pigs in the Philippines, FAO, the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) and the World Health Organization (WHO) announced today that the government of the Philippines has requested the three agencies send an expert mission to work with human and animal health experts in the Philippines to further investigate the situation.
An increase in pig mortality on swine farms in the provinces of Nueva Ecija and Bulacan in 2007 and 2008 prompted the Government of the Philippines to initiate laboratory investigations. Samples taken from ill pigs in May, June and September 2008 were sent to international reference laboratories which confirmed in late October that the pigs were infected with a highly virulent strain of Porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS) as well as the Ebola-Reston virus.
Ebola-Reston in swine
Although co-infection in pigs is not unusual, this is the first time globally that an Ebola-Reston virus has been isolated in swine. It is not, however, the first time that the Ebola-Reston virus has been found in the Philippines: it was found in monkeys from the Philippines in outbreaks that occurred in 1989-1990, 1992, and 1996.
The Ebola virus belongs to the Filoviridae family (filovirus) and is comprised of five distinct species: Zaïre, Sudan, Côte d'Ivoire, Bundibugyo and Reston. Zaïre, Sudan and Bundibugyo species have been associated with large Ebola hemorrhagic fever (EHF) outbreaks in Africa with high case fatality ratio (25-90%) while Côte d'Ivoire and Reston have not. Reston species can infect humans but no serious illness or death in humans have been reported to date.
Since being informed of this event in late November, FAO, OIE and WHO have been making every effort to gain a better understanding of the situation and are working closely with the Philippines Government and local animal and human health experts.
The Department of Health of the Philippines has reported that initial laboratory tests on animal handlers and slaughterhouse workers who were thought to have come into contact with infected pigs were negative for Ebola-Reston infection, and that additional testing is ongoing. The Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI) of the Philippines Department of Agriculture has notified the OIE that all infected animals were destroyed and buried or burned, the infected premises and establishments have been disinfected and the affected areas are under strict quarantine and movement control. Vaccination of swine against PRRS is ongoing in the Province of Bucalan. PRRS is not transmissible to humans.
The planned joint FAO/OIE/WHO team will work with country counterparts to address, through field and laboratory investigation, important questions as to the source of the virus, its transmission, its virulence and its natural habitat, in order to provide appropriate guidance for animal and human health protection.
Basic good hygiene
Until these questions can be answered, the FAO and WHO stressed the importance of carrying out basic good hygiene practices and food handling measures.
Ebola viruses are normally transmitted via contact with the blood or other bodily fluids of an infected animal or person. In all situations, even in the absence of identified risks, meat handling and preparation should be done in a clean environment (table top, utensils, knives) and meat handlers should follow good personal hygiene practices (e.g. clean hands, clean protective clothing). In general, hands should be regularly washed while handling raw meat.
Pork from healthy pigs is safe to eat as long as either the fresh meat is cooked properly (i.e. 70°C in all part of the food, so that there is no pink meat and the juices run clear), or, in the case of uncooked processed pork, national safety standards have been met during production, processing and distribution.
Meat from sick pigs or pigs found dead should not be eaten and should not enter the food chain or be given to other animals. Ill animals should be reported to the competent authorities and proper hygiene precautions and protection should be taken when destroying and disposing of sick or dead pigs. The Philippines Department of Agriculture has advised the Philippine public to buy its meat only from National Meat Inspection Services certified sources.
As a general rule, proper hygiene and precautionary measures (wearing gloves, goggles and protective clothing) should also be exercised when slaughtering or butchering pigs. This applies both to industrial and home-slaughtering of pigs. Children and those not involved in the process of slaughtering should be kept away.