'Pig Ebola' mutation could pose threat to humans
Veterinary experts are investigating how a form of the Ebola virus found in primates has been transmitted to pigs in the Philippines.
Twenty-two international health and veterinary experts travelled to the island of Luzon in the Philippines last week (13 January) to investigate an outbreak of the Ebola Reston virus in pigs that occurred in 2008.
It was the first time the virus had been seen outside primates, and its appearance in domestic livestock is unexpected and worrying, according to Pierre Rollin, an Ebola expert from the US Centers of Disease Control and Prevention.
The current form of the virus seems to pose little threat to human health. Cooking destroys it and humans infected in the past have shown no ill effects.
The concern is that once inside the pig, the virus could mutate into a form deadly to humans — as bird flu is thought to have done.
Blood and tissue samples taken from healthy pigs on the farms in Luzon will be tested for antibodies to the virus to calculate the approximate death rate of infected pigs.
Rollin suspects that rather than the virus being transferred directly from primates to the pigs, there is an intermediate reservoir. Bats are a known reservoir of Ebola in Africa, and the virus could be spread into pig feed via bat droppings, he says.