January 7, 2009 / 5:27 AM / 11 years ago

Experts begin Ebola tests on pigs in Philippines

MANILA, Jan 7 (Reuters) - Experts from three United Nations agencies began 10-day scientific tests on two hog farms in the Philippines on Wednesday after a strain of the Ebola-Reston virus was found in pigs late last year, authorities said.

Eating pork remained safe as long as it is handled and cooked properly and bought in outlets accredited by the government’s National Meat Inspection Service, said a joint statement by the World Health Organisation (WHO), World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) and Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

"Our teams are doing field and laboratory investigation to determine where the Ebola-Reston virus came from and how it was transmitted," Caroline-Anne Coulombe, WHO risk communications officer, told Reuters.

"This work will be only the start of a lengthy process to address several issues, such as the source of the virus, transmission, its virulence and its natural habitat," she said.

Juan Lubroth, FAO team leader, said it was the first time that a strain of the Ebola-Reston virus had been found outside monkeys and the first time ever worldwide that it had been found in swine.

The WHO has said it considers the case a "low public health risk" because the Ebola virus strain found in the Philippines was not known to be fatal in humans in the past.

Although the U.N. mission has only 10 days to visit two hog farms in Pangasinan and Bulacan provinces, Coulombe said it would take months to learn more about the virus.

Lubroth said it was safe to eat pork but it should be cooked at a minimum of 70 degrees Celsius (158 degrees Fahrenheit).

The U.N. joint agencies’ statement said it was safe to eat uncooked processed pork if national safety standards had been met during production, processing and distribution.

Meat from suspect pigs, sick pigs or pigs found dead should not be eaten or fed to other animals, the statement added.

Last month, the Philippines asked for U.N. assistance to help stop the spread of the Ebola-Reston virus, testing 10,000 swine in two quarantined hog farms in northern Luzon island.

The presence of the Ebola-Reston virus in some pigs in two commercial farms and two backyard farms in the country were found by accident in laboratory tests in the United States in September, when samples were sent for another disease.

Davinio Catbagan, director of the government’s bureau of animal industry, said authorities conducted more tests in late December but no additional Ebola infections were found. (Reporting by Manny Mogato; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Paul Tait)

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