Ebola Reston in pigs and humans in the Philippines
3 February 2009 – On 23 January 2009, the Government of the Philippines announced that a person thought to have come in contact with sick pigs had tested positive for Ebola Reston Virus antibodies. On 30 January 2009 the Government announced that a further four individuals had been found positive for ERV antibodies: two farm workers in Bulacan and one farm worker in Pangasinan – the two farms currently under quarantine in northern Luzon because of ERV infection was found in pigs – and one butcher from a slaughterhouse in Pangasinan. The person announced on 23 January to have tested positive for ERV antibodies is reported to be a backyard pig farmer from Valenzuela City – a neighbourhood within Metro Manila. The Philippine Department of Health has said that the people who tested positive appear to be in good health and have not suffered from any significant illnesses in the past 12 months. The investigation team reported that it was possible that all 5 individuals had been exposed to the virus as a result of direct contact with sick pigs. The use of personal protective equipment is not common practice among these animal handlers. From these observations and previous studies of ERV, the virus has shown it can be transmitted to humans, without resulting in illness. The evidence available relates only to healthy adults and it would be premature to conclude the health effects of the virus on all population groups. The threat to human health is likely to be low for healthy adults but is unknown for all other population groups, such as immuno-compromised persons, persons with underlying medical conditions, pregnant women and children. The Philippine Government is conducting contact tracing in relation to the five individuals who tested positive for antibodies. Testing is ongoing for other persons who could have come into contact with sick pigs on the two quarantined farms in the provinces of Bulacan and Pangasinan where pigs co-infected with the Porcine Respiratory and Reproductive Syndrome and ERV were reported in 2008. The two farms remain under quarantine and the Philippine Government is maintaining its voluntary hold of exports of live pigs and fresh and frozen pork meat. The Philippine Government has announced a combined Department of Health and Department of Agriculture strategy to limit the animal and human health risks of the Ebola Reston Virus and emphasized that local governments, the pig farming industry and the public will play a critical role in the strategy. Along with its international partners, the WHO will continue to support the Philippine Government in its efforts to gain a better understanding of the Ebola Reston virus, its effects on humans, and the measures that need to be taken to reduce any risks to human health.
Scientists Debate New Study on GMO-Fed Pigs
Science commentators involved in the genetically modified food debate have weighed in on a new study that says pigs fed genetically modified grains suffered a higher rate of severe stomach inflammation and developed heavier uteri. Some experts have said the study shows evidence of a problem that warrants further study, while others have dismissed it as alarmist “Junk science.” While stoking old flames, the study also highlights difficulties researchers face when patent-holders deny access to genetically modified seeds for studying. The study, conducted by Australian and U.S. researchers and published Tuesday in the Journal of Organic Systems, followed 168 pigs from weaning age to slaughter weight over the course of nearly 23 weeks. Here’s the number the study’s authors highlight as most concerning: 23 GM pigs had severely inflamed stomachs, while only 9 non-GM did. Another point of contention lies in the potential variance in nutritional composition between the GM and non-GM grain fed to the pigs in the study. According to the study’s authors, the GM corn and soy used in the study were considered compositionally and substantially equivalent to the non-GM varieties by government agencies. Without express permission from the biotech patent-holder, scientists and farmers risk facing lawsuits for conducting any studies. “Any study you want to do with these engineered crops, you need to get the company’s permission,” Hansen said. On his Science Denialism blog, Mark Hoofnagle, Ph.D., referred to the study as a “Fishing trip,” as it did not set out to answer a hypothesis but instead measured a range of parameters in hope that any differences between the groups would appear. The study should have been treated as preliminary research before engaging in hypothesis-driven testing, he said. Institutions and scientists who came out in support of the study praised its relatively large sample size of 164 pigs, as well as its duration and farming conditions intended to match those seen in commercial pig-farming operations. Lynas said the study’s data raised questions concerning the low quality of care the pigs endured. The animals were indeed raised in a commercial environment and the data were similar to what is expected in such a setting, said Howard Vlieger, co-author of the study and owner of Verity Farms in Maurice, Iowa, where the study was conducted. Vlieger told Food Safety News that while the study could not include any anecdotal behavioral observations of the pigs, the researchers did notice a marked difference in temperament between the two groups. “If the studies show the engineered crops are fine, fine. But let the scientists study them the way they want.”