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Sunday, March 3, 2024

DA bares bird flu outbreak in Pampanga; DoH on alert

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The Philippines declared its first ever outbreak of the H5 strain of bird flu on Friday, but said there had been no cases of humans infected.

An immediate cull was ordered for all chicken, ducks and quail within a kilometer (0.6 miles) of the infected poultry in San Luis town, north of Manila, said Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol.

“So far we do not have any reported animal to human transmissions,” Piñol told a news conference.

Piñol said the infected birds tested positive for avian influenza Type A, sub-type H5.

The avian flu strains that have been known to jump to humans are the H5N1 and H5N7 subtypes, said Celia Carlos, director of the health department’s Research Institute for Tropical Medicine.

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Officials have not yet said which H5 subtype the infected birds carried.

“The transmission risk is low, but the mortality is high. It is a concern,” said Carlos, especially for infants as well as people suffering from other ailments.

The World Health Organization has monitored 453 human deaths from 859 cases of avian influenza since 2000, with Asia accounting for 41 percent of all cases.

The Philippines had not previously reported any human cases, according to WHO data.

About 200,000 birds would have to be put down and their carcasses buried, Pinol said, adding farmers, particularly in San Luis, will be compensated by P80/head.

The six infected Philippine farms only sold their products to local consumers and none had been exported, Piñol said.

However, the outbreak began in April and the farm owners had neglected to report it to the authorities immediately, he added.

To prevent the potential spread of avian flu, the government has banned the transport of all poultry products from within seven kilometers of the infected farms, Piñol said.

He said the authorities suspect the virus could have been spread by migratory birds or from smuggled poultry products.

San Luis, about 60 kilometres (37 miles) north of Manila, is close to the Candaba swamps, a major way station and destination for migratory birds who move out of the Asian mainland during winter.

The outbreak, the first after 7 to 8 years, was reported to the Department only last Thursday.

“Twelve quarantine teams from the Bureau of Animal Industry are guarding the exits from San Luis,” said Pinol adding that the one-kilometer quarantine radius is for strict adherence by the quarantine team.

He reiterated that the temporary ban was necessary to protect human health and the local poultry industry.

It has also called on the attention of other nearby provinces to safeguard their poultry farms and immediately report incidents that are bird flu-like to contain the spread of the disease and avoid another outbreak.

In addition, the Bureau has been keeping a close watch on the entry of birds, poultry and its products into the country to maintain the Philippines bird-flu free status.

The Animal Bureau detected the virus as H5N1 strain that affects both the animal and human, although person to person transmittal is rare.

Piñol assures consumers that the outbreak will not affect the supply of local poultry, although it may have a slight effect on egg supply. 

The Animal Bureau will be sending samples to the Australian Animal Health Laboratory, an Office Internationale des Epizooties headquarters for avian influenza testing. 

The Agriculture Department has several avian flu testing facilities in the country, a program of joint undertaking by the Philippine and Japanese governments. 

The Philippines is part of the so-called migratory fly way, during the months of November to February, where thousands of shore birds, mostly from Australia, China, Siberia, and Mongolia, pass by, making it susceptible to the AI virus.

Meanwhile, the Health Department said it is closely monitoring the events surrounding an avian flu outbreak in poultry in Pampanga, as reported by the DA.

She said that the agriculture department decided to cull around 500,000 chickens to contain the animal outbreak.

She also made an assurance that the Department of Health has stepped-up surveillance of the human flu like-illness since the reported human influenza outbreaks in Hong Kong and India few months back.

“The. DoH will now look for human cases who may have been exposed to avian flu strain in affected areas,” said Ubial.

She said that any person who becomes sick with fever and/or sore throat/cough and had exposure to these dead chickens should report to the local health center or nearest hospital for laboratory confirmation.

A team of DoH epidemiologists has been dispatched to assist the DA in the outbreak investigation. The DoH is now alerting hospitals in the affected areas to report similar cases.

The Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) has the capacity to confirm these cases.

The health chief said the DoH will coordinate efforts with DA, FAO and WHO to prevent the spread of the virus.

She added that the DoH has enough supply of anti-flu medication and commodities whenever regional health offices and hospitals will require these.

All health providers, Ubial said, should observe respiratory precautions when taking care of patients with flu or flu-like illness. Properly cooked chicken remains safe to eat.

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