Dec 11, 2008 (CIDRAP News) – The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) today announced that the Ebola virus has been found in pigs for the first time, a discovery researchers made when they were investigating outbreaks of porcine reproductive respiratory syndrome (PRRS) at several swine producers in the Philippines.
The Ebola virus detected in the swine samples was identified by scientists in the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Plum Island laboratory, which determined in October that it was the Reston subtype, according to a report yesterday from the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE). The subtype, which was discovered in 1989 at a primate facility in Reston, Va., among monkeys imported from the Philippines, can sicken monkeys, but does not appear to clinically infect humans.
Juan Lubroth, senior officer in the FAO's animal production and health division, said the findings may help researchers edge closer to finding the reservoir of the Ebola virus, Bloomberg News reported today.
"Since the 1970s, scientists, veterinarians, microbiologists, and physicians have been looking at thousands of species to see if they can find this elusive reservoir, and we have been pretty much empty-handed," he told Bloomberg. "This opens up avenues to delve into the ecology and do more searching."
Philippine health officials have collected serum samples from people who worked with or were exposed to the animals, which revealed no Ebola Reston antibodies, according the OIE report. Animals in the area have been quarantined, and livestock officials will conduct more tests on the animals as soon as they receive swine testing kits from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The FAO, in its statement today, said it expects that laboratory tools will be developed to test pigs and other animals throughout the Philippines to determine how extensive the Ebola Reston virus is.
It advised against handling pork infected with the Ebola Reston virus, because the risks and consequences of contamination are not known.
The OIE said the affected swine producers noted a sudden mortality increase in the animals in mid 2007, which continued into early 2008. It said the infected pigs had clinical signs that were consistent with atypical PRRS infection, which can be linked to more than one pathogen.
USDA testing showed that the swine samples were 98% similar to the atypical PRRS virus that has been linked to outbreaks in Vietnam and China, the OIE said, adding that morbidity and mortality patterns were also consistent with the same type of virus.
Dec 11 FAO statement
Dec 10 OIE report
CIDRAP viral hemorrhagic fever overview