Should the outbreak of Ebola in Philippines be a concern?


Posted at Jan 23 2009 07:12 PM | Updated as of Jan 24 2009 03:12 AM

SINGAPORE - A Filipino farm worker has been found infected by the Ebola-Reston virus that was discovered in pigs at two farms north of Manila last year.

It was the first time Ebola-Reston was found outside monkeys, but the government said the health risk was negligible. The infected man had not shown any symptoms and was healthy, officials said.

Here are some questions and answers on the disease

What is the Ebola Reston virus?

- There are five distinct species of the Ebola virus: Zare, Sudan, Cte d'Ivoire, Bundibugyo and Reston. The Zare, Sudan and Bundibugyo species have been associated with large Ebola hemorrhagic fever (EHF) outbreaks in Africa with high mortality rates of between 25 percent and 90 percent while Cte d'Ivoire and Reston have not.

How is Ebola-Reston different from the Ebola virus that was responsible for many deaths in Africa?

- The Reston species can infect humans but no serious illness or death in humans have been reported to date. During outbreaks of the Reston strain in monkeys in the 1990s, a small number of people (around 25) were found to have antibodies against Ebola Reston. This means they had been infected by the virus and their body had produced an immune response. However, only one person had mild, flu-like symptoms. This person fully recovered. The other people who tested positive for antibodies did not have any symptoms or illness.

What's different this time?

- This is the first time that Ebola-Reston has been found in pigs and a pig farm worker has tested positive for Ebola Reston antibodies, which means that the worker was probably infected by a pig, although there is no proof of this. Pigs are worrisome because they are mixing vessels for many types of viruses and bacteria and if left uncontrolled, experts fear Ebola-Reston could mutate into a form that is more transmissible among people.

Should the outbreak of Ebola in Philippines be a concern?

- Unlike monkeys, pigs are farmed for food and far more people are exposed to them, which puts them at risk of getting infected if the epidemic in pigs is not under control.

What precautions can be taken?

- 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 degrees Celsius 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. (Sources: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the World Health Organization)