Monday, December 22, 2008

Why Ebola in pigs is a very bad thing

The news article about Ebola in scared the hell out of me. Perhaps because I am a biologist or because I saw the movie Outbreak (1995).

I think we all know what viruses are. They cause diseases like the common cold, HIV, chicken pox, small pox etc. Ebola virus is a particularly bad one. This virus has inspired a few Hollywood movies and a lot of science fiction books with good reason. Ebola causes the Ebola hemorrhagic fever which has a very high fatality rate.

Anyway, what Philippine pigs have is called Ebola Virus Reston strain. This virus gave a few people in Reston, Virginia a bit of a scare in 1989 when it was found in monkeys imported from the Philippines. It inspired Richard Preston to write The Hot Zone (which in turn inspired the movie Outbreak). Ebola has a tremendously bad reputation (very ugly way to die, imagine blood coming out of every hole in your body), so when they realized that this strain was airborne they thought it would be very bad indeed. Luckily it turned out, Ebola Reston was not pathogenic to humans. Well, not yet anyway....

What we have to know about viruses is that they mutate very fast because they multiply very fast. They can be harmless now but be very harmful in an instant. Ebola Reston is now in pigs. Pigs are very close to humans. This is usually the route viruses take to "jump" to humans. The scary thing about Ebola Reston is it is airborne. It just needs one tiny mutation and it can be the material that will make Outbreak a true story.

So piggery owners in Luzon. Please don't sell or eat pigs from your farm that died from Ebola (double dead, for the Christmas feast) even if you got information that Ebola is not harmful to humans. Viruses change very quickly and if this one does, it might just become the bomb that kills us all.


Joe said...

I know some stuff about microbiology too, I'm a pharmacist and mutation is easy for viruses. IT is scary to think that a virus can put end to the human race. A lot of movies about viruses wiping out the whole human race like I AM LEGEND is scary because there is a possibility of it happening. 2012 is near, hoping nothing wrong happens by then...

Unknown said...

How do we know that this is a recent jump into pigs. Maybe it was never found before because no one was looking for it.

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