As some may recall, in 2014 I wrote a blog about Ebola and the outbreak in Guinea. It was a story, if you will, of how my passion and interest in infection prevention came to be. If you happen to read the blog, you’ll see that a reader took my interest in infection prevention and what was happening as not showing respect and having “something wrong with me.”
Ebola is an interest of mine. I do find it fascinating. It’s history. Our attempts to contain the multitude of outbreaks that have occurred and our inability to stop these outbreaks from happening. I read any article that comes across my desk that talks about Ebola and yes, I keep tabs on any outbreaks that are currently happening. You can imagine my interest in coming across an article that indicated there was some evidence that pigs might be able to host the Ebola virus. We know that viruses can't survive in the environment, and in most cases once the dust has settled and an outbreak investigation has wrapped up, we know that some type of animal must be serving as a "reservoir". When it comes to Ebola, the evidence so far points to fruit bats as the guilty party, but gorillas, chimpanzees, and even antelope may also play a role.
If pigs were to be found to be involved in spreading Ebola, this could be particularly worrisome. It would mean that a common animal, one used as livestock, one that some may even live with, could be spreading Ebola. The research team from the article collected blood samples from 400 pigs in regions of Sierra Leone that had reported human cases of the Ebola virus. Of the 400 pigs tested, three had antibodies in their blood that reacted to Ebola virus proteins meaning that these animals had been infected by the virus at some point and mounted an immune response. The researchers found that these antibodies were not protective when challenged to the Ebola virus.
Does this mean that pigs can or will spread Ebola? This study shows that pigs can be infected with a type of Ebola virus, perhaps not the one causing the large West African epidemic, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a future possibility.