Manila: Butchering dead horses and eating their meat has been banned in the southern Philippines due to the reported deaths of people who contracted Nipah virus in two villages in the southern Philippines in April.

The incident was investigated by representatives of the World Health Organisation (WHO) in May, but was not reported to the public, sources told Gulf News on Friday.

“The ban was not formalised although it is strictly enforced. It is part of an ongoing surveillance in Tinalon and Midtungok villages, in the municipality of Senater Ninoy Aquino, a province in Sultan Kudarat. The order came from village-level representatives of the health and agriculture departments in the two villages after 13 people had died when they [butchered] 10 previously dead horses and ate their meat in April, a chain that also affected cats and dogs,” said a source who requested for anonymity.

Manila’s health department did not formally announce the suspected outbreak of Nipah Virus-related cases when it occurred in Sultan Kudarat, the source added.

Nipah Virus was blamed for the death of horses, residents, cats, and dogs in Tinalon and Midtungkok villages. The horses were initially contaminated by fruit bats that belong to the family Pteropodidae, endemic in one of the two affected villages and a known natural reservoir of Nipah Virus. Residents, cats, and dogs died because they ate contaminated horse meat, according to a paper published this year by Emerging Infectious Diseases.

It was written by 17 authors, led by Paola Katrina Ching, a hospital staff nurse at Dr Jose N. Rodriguez Memorial Hospital, and a second-year fellow in the Philippine Field Epidemiology Training Programme of the health department’s National Epidemiology Centre.

Ten of the authors were foreigners who represented Manila’s WHO office, Atlanta’s Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, Australia’s Australian Animal Health Laboratory, and Japan’s National Institute of Infectious Diseases.

“[It all began] on April 2, 2014, [when] the Philippine National Epidemiology Centre received a report of human deaths in two villages, Tinalon and Midtungok, which are 15 kilometres apart,” said the report, adding that 17 cases were brought to a hospital in Isulan, 80 kilometres away from the affected towns.

Of the 17 cases reviewed by the Philippine National Epidemiology Centre, WHO, and the health department, “fatality rate among those with acute encephalitis syndrome was 82 per cent,” said the report, which did not specifically mention if 13 or 14 people had died.

“One survivor with acute encephalitis syndrome experienced residual severe cognitive impairment, motor weakness, and ataxia,” said the report, adding that one survivor with acute encephalitis syndrome “experienced persistent ophthalmoplegia (paralysis of eye muscles)”.

Seven of the 17 cases (or 41 per cent) butchered horses that had previously died and ate their meat, said the report, adding that three of the cases also ate the meat but did not help prepare the dead horses.

Two of the cases were health workers in Isulan who wore just gloves and face mask when they attended to the sick. Two others took care of patients in their homes in the affected villages, and one helped bring a patient with flu-like symptoms to the hospital.

Cases of village residents who suffered from “acute encephalitis syndrome, severe influenza-like illness, or meningitis from March 3 to May 24, 2014, were studied because they were identified as “epidemiological links” to the Nipah Virus outbreak, said the report.

Ten horses died in the two villages from March 3 to May 11, said the report, adding that four cats and one dog also died after they ate horse meat.

The outbreak in the southern Philippines was unusual because the Nipah Virus has “not been reported previously to spill to horses after it occurred in Australia in 1994,” said the report.

“Secondary transmission to humans, dogs, and cats with deaths in all species” was also unusual, including human to human transmission, which was reported in an outbreak in Bangladesh in 1998, said the report.

Teams from the WHO and the health department conducted interviews in the affected villages from May 22 to 24, said the report.