Government Team Helping Out with Reston Study

THE PHILIPPINES - The government has formed a local team to assist a visiting group of international human and animal health experts carry out a 10-day epidemiological investigation into the re-emergence of the Ebola Reston virus that was detected in a few hogs in two farms in Bulacan and Pangasinan late last year, the Department of Agriculture (DA) said yesterday.
calendar icon 9 January 2009
clock icon 6 minute read

Bureau of Animal Industry Director Davinio Catbagan, who heads the DA's Crisis Management Team (CMT) on the Ebola Reston virus, said the local counterpart team comprise BAI Assistant Director Victor Atienza, Dr Samuel Animas of the BAI-Animal Health Division; and BAI officials Dr Emelinda Lopez, Dr Laarni Cabantac, Dr Rubina Cresencio, Dr Ma Gracia Flores, Dr Magdalena Cruz, Dr Rachel Azul, Dr Reildrin Morales and Marites Gealone.

Atienza is also the assistant manager of the CMT, while Animas heads the Department's Crisis Management Center on the Ebola Reston virus, which has proven to be not harmful to humans.

A team from the Department of Health (DOH) completes the local counterpart group that will assist the international experts from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Office International des Epizooties (OIE) or World Animal Health Organization in conducting the epidemiological study aimed at finding out the extent and possible source of the Reston virus and of other virulent swine diseases such as the Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome (PRRS) and Circovirus.

The 15-man team of international experts, which is led by Juan Lubroth of the FAO, includes: Dr Carolyn Benigno, Veterinary Epidemiologist, Dr Kate Glynn, Risk Assessment Specialist (OIE), Dr William White, FAO/seconded from USDA), Mr Mario Musa, International Consultant (Crisis Communication), Ms Elizabeth Christy, International Consultant (Operations) Dr Romeo Gundran, National Consultant (Veterinary Epidemiology), Dr Cesar Ballesteros, National Consultant (Pig Production) and from WHO: Dr Soe Hyunt, Dr Julie Hall, Tony Hazzard, Caroline-Anne Coulombe, Boris Paulin, Pierre Formenty, Peter Ben Embarek.

As this developed, DA Assistant Secretary Salvador Salacup noted that the joint DA-DOH move last 10 December to inform the public of the resurfacing of the Reston virus has had no adverse impact on the consumption of pork during the last holiday season, as he noted that demand for the product remained high in that period.

"There were initial concerns raised by the hog industry on the effect of reports about the discovery of the Ebola Reston virus in swine. But contrary to that, a survey of the Social Weather Stations last 22 December showed that the most demanded agricultural wage product before Christmas was pork," Salacup said.

He noted that prices of pork even rose to P160-P170 a kilo due to high demand despite the government's official disclosure about the Reston virus's detection in a few hogs in one farm in Bulacan and another one in Pangasinan.

"The re-emergence of the Reston virus in hogs has had no impact insofar as the supply and consumption levels of pork are concerned," Salacup said.

The Bureau of Agricultural Statistics (BAS) reported that from 12-23December, or right after the DA and the DOH disclosed the re-emergence of the Reston virus, the prices of pork even shot up by P10 a kilo due to the increased demand for the commodity, which is a staple in the Noche Buena fare of Filipino families.

Salacup said the government had correctly handled the Reston case, with international health experts led by Dr Soe Nyunt-U, the WHO country representative to the Philippines, speaking earlier on behalf of his organization, FAO and the OIE, citing the DA and DOH for taking "appropriate action" in dealing with this animal health issue.

Earlier, DA Secretary Arthur Yap welcomed the arrival of the team of international animal and human health experts, saying the exhaustive tests it will carry out would help the government craft a national surveillance plan along with prevention and control programs to get rid of the Reston virus.

He noted that following the government's disclosure of this virus' return in December last year, the DA and BAI promptly asked the international health community for assistance in conducting a risk assessment, in testing the local swine population for the presence of the Reston virus and in drawing up diagnostics and disease prevention plans to prevent the spread of the infection.

Both Yap and Duque thanked the members of the international team last Wednesday and assured them of the government's full cooperation in the conduct of the study.

Lubroth, the mission's team leader, said that since learning about the existence of the virus in pigs in the Philippines,"FAO, OIE and WHO have been fully committed to provide technical assistance to the Government of the Philippines."

These experts arrived in Manila on 6 January and immediately started their mission, with the field investigation component beginning the following day, 7 January. Lubroth said the mission will last 10 days with preliminary results expected "in a few weeks at the earliest."

Catbagan noted that even before the arrival of the team of experts, the BAI already collected 110 blood samples from swine in a Reston-infected farm in Bulacan and another 55 samples from the affected farm in Pangasinan.

These samples, which were all collected last 27 December, were sent for testing to the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM), which had received ELISA kits for antigen and detection from the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control. The kits that were sent by the CDC are good for 8,000 blood samples.

ELISA stands for Enzyme-Linked ImmunoSorbent Assay, which is a biochemical technique to detect the presence of an antibody or antigen in a blood sample.

This total of 165 samples was on top of the 129 samples earlier sent to the RITM, all which tested negative for this virus, which has proven to be not harmful to humans.

Catbagan said that alongside helping the DA craft a national surveillance and disease prevention plan, the results of the experts' study would help the Department assess the public health risks of the Reston virus; evaluate its laboratory capabilities and needs; and work on its public awareness and risk communications campaigns.

He said that while the WHO has classified the Reston case as a "predominantly animal health issue," the DA would still want to determine how the virus, which infected monkeys about a decade ago, has now jumped to hogs.

He recalled that after a series of tests undertaken by the RITM to prevent the spread of the virus and determine the extent of the infection, it found out that there were no sick pigs and no sign of illness even in the animal caretakers where the Ebola Reston was detected.

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