23 December 2008The Philippine Government has asked the United Nations for help in tackling what appears to be the first publicly reported outbreak of the deadly Ebola-Reston virus in pigs, which has attacked hog farms in the South-East Asian nation. Philippine officials have asked two UN agencies – the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) – as well as the World Organization for Human Health (OIE) to send an expert mission to investigate the outbreak, FAO announced today. “Since being informed of this event in late November, FAO, OIE and WHO have been making every effort to gain a better understanding of the situation and are working closely with the Philippine Government and local animal and human health experts,” FAO said in a news release. The experts are conducting field and laboratory tests to find the source of the virus, its transmission, natural habitat and virulence in order to appropriately guide animal and human health protection, according to FAO.Lab reports in late October confirmed that pigs on hog farms in the Nueva Ecija and Bulacan provinces of the Central Luzon region were infected with the Ebola-Reston virus, as well as a highly virulent strain of Porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS). The tests began in early 2007 when pigs on those farms began dying at a faster rate than usual.PRSS can not be transmitted to humans. The Reston strain of the Ebola virus can infect humans, but no deaths or serious illnesses have been reported to date. Still, officials are taking precautions. Animal handlers and slaughterhouse workers who were possibly exposed to the infected pigs have tested negative for the Ebola-Reston virus and additional tests are underway. The Philippine Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Animal Industry notified the OIE that all infected animals were destroyed, their remains buried or burned. Healthy pigs in Bucalan are being vaccinated against PRRS. And infected premises have been disinfected and placed under strict quarantine and movement control.Outbreaks of the Ebola-Reston virus in the Philippines first occurred in monkeys during 1989 and 1990, followed by outbreaks in 1992 and 1996.FAO and WHO have advised people to follow good hygiene practices and food-handling measures until experts better understand the disease and how it was transmitted to pigs. Pork from healthy swine is safe to eat as long as it is cooked properly or has met national safety standards during production, processing and distribution. The Philippine Department of Agriculture has advised the Philippine public to buy meat only from sources certified by the National Meat Inspection Service.