Tests reveal pig worker has Ebola antibodies

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Jan 27, 2009 (CIDRAP News) – Health officials in the Philippines recently announced that a worker who had contact with sick pigs tested positive for antibodies to the Ebola Reston virus, a pathogen that was discovered about a month ago for the first time in pigs.

Eric Tayag, head of the National Epidemiology Centre, said the case represent the first known pig-to-human Ebola Reston virus transmission, according to a Jan 24 Associated Press (AP) report.

The Ebola subtype was discovered in 1989 at a primate facility in Reston, Va. among monkeys imported from the Philippines. The Ebola Reston virus can sicken monkeys, but causes little if any clinical disease in humans.

Tayag said blood sampling on 50 pig farm and slaughterhouse workers conducted by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showed that one worker was exposed to the virus more than 6 months ago, the AP report said.

Francisco Duque, the nation's health secretary, told reporters at a news conference that the man had not been seriously ill in the past 12 months and was extremely unlikely to have exposed others to the virus, the AP reported. "This new finding in humans still presents a negligible risk to human health," he said.

Lo Wing-Iok, an infectious disease expert in Hong Kong, said viruses jumping species is always a concern, according to a Jan 23 report from Reuters. He said it is important to follow the Ebola Reston developments very closely.

"This virus may be magnified in swine and we could get a higher-density virus in the environment and more cases of human infection can occur," Lo told Reuters.

When Ebola Reston virus outbreaks hit monkeys in the Philippines in the 1990s, people who had close contact with the sick animals were tested, and about 25 had antibodies to the virus, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). One person had mild flulike symptoms but recovered fully.

In other Ebola developments, the medical aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF, or Doctors Without Borders) said recently that the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is under control.

All patients with suspected infections who were under observation in the MSF isolation center in Kampungu in Western Kasai province have been discharged and are in good health, the organization said.

So far 48 patients have shown symptoms of Ebola fever, but only 7 cases were confirmed, MSF reported. There were 2 deaths among the 7 confirmed cases.

MSF said its isolation center would remain open in case new suspected cases surface.

The outbreak, which began in mid December, is the second outbreak since 2007 to strike the DRC's West Kasai province. Statements from the WHO and MSF have not said which Ebola subtype has sickened people in the outbreak. Public health officials have said that some of the suspected cases in both recent outbreaks had Shigella (bacterial) infections.

See also:

Dec 11, 2008, CIDRAP News story "Testing turns up Ebola in pigs"

Jan 23 Doctors Without Borders report

Jan 2 WHO update on Ebola in DRC

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