The Bad News:

Those pigs near Manila infected with a mild variation of the Ebola virus (the Ebola Reston strain) have spread the virus to at least one human.

The good news: He didn’t get sick.

Authorities testing those in contact with the infected pigs found one man had antibodies on a blood test, proving he was infected but his body easily fought off the infection.

Those of you who have read the scary but true book The Hot Zone know that the Reston strain of the Ebola virus is named after Reston Virginia, where a bunch of monkeys came down with this terrible disease…but luckily didn’t cause a major epidemic in local humans.

So what’s the Philippine connection, and how did an African monkey virus spread here to pigs?

Well, it seems that scientists need a lot of monkeys for research, but the areas of Africa where they are abundent tend to be a tad dangerous, and since they are inland, a lot of them die during transport.

So they are shipped instead to the Philippines, which has a similar climate, where  they were stored.

In 1989, the Reston Virginia monkeys, which were Crab-eating Macaques from Mindanao, were traced back to Ferlite Farms in Laguna (Full article HERE at the Stanford website, and HERE at Wikipedia).

There is a question on how the monkeys caught it: unlike the more severe Ebola virus, which is spread via body fluids, the Reston strain spreads through air.

How did the Crab-eating Macaques which were came from Mindanao catch the Ebola Reston virus? Did they catch it from African monkeys whose cages were nearby, during transit or in one of the “holding facilities”, or did they caught it from African monkeys brought in as pets?

But then you have the next question: Why should pigs in Bulacan, 30 miles north of Manila, be infected when the last Monkey cases were associated with the Ferlite Farm facility in Laguna, 40 miles east of Manila?

In the meanwhile, the authorities don’t think that the Ebola Reston virus is making the pigs sick or die. The dead pigs were infected with the  porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome, or blue-ear pig disease, which is causing a lot of pigs to die in China and other Asian countries.

So in the meanwhile, the Philippine government is assuring people that pig meat is safe to eat, as long as

1) it did not come from a pig that died of an illness (selling so called “double dead” meat is a problem here) and

2) you cook the pork so that there is no “pink” left.

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Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. Her website is Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket.

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