Local breed sow and piglets on a farm in Masaka district, Uganda

Local breed sow and piglets on a farm in Masaka district, Uganda (photo credit: ILRI/Eliza Smith).

Zoonotic diseases are most dangerous when they take animal and human health workers by surprise, giving the public and disease control officials no advance warning or time to put prevention measures in place. The recent Ebola outbreak in West Africa illustrates the adverse consequences of trying to tackle a disease outbreak too late and with little information.

Ebola is a serious but mysterious disease; in Uganda, there is little solid information on the reservoir and transmission of Ebola. However, research findings in the last few decades have given rise to speculation that there could be associations between pigs and Ebola.

Currently, there is no evidence that pigs have had any role in past outbreaks of Ebola virus disease. But given the huge importance of pigs to the Ugandan economy, diet and livelihoods, it is important to investigate any potential links sooner rather than later.

A recent study by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) argues there are several factors that support the potential role of pigs in the transmission of Ebola to humans in Uganda. It is critical that this hypothesis be investigated in order to understand the risks to the country’s burgeoning pig production industry.

A spatial representation of potential risk factors for zoonotic transmission involving pigs in Uganda could be used to initiate further investigations into Ebola and other zoonotic diseases known to affect pigs in Uganda.

The researchers call for a One Health approach to the continued research. The benefit of this multidisciplinary approach is that limited resources can be utilized efficiently to improve the health and livelihoods of Ugandans through enhanced food safety and security, and the preservation of important ecosystem services, such as those provided by bats and other wildlife.

Clear and consistent risk communication from all research partners will be of utmost importance in preventing hysteria and delivering good outcomes for wildlife conservation and livelihoods.

Download the policy brief, One Health approach recommended in investigating and communicating the potential role of pigs in transmitting Ebola in Uganda written by Eliza Smith of KYEEMA Foundation and Christine Atherstone and Delia Grace of ILRI.