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Avian flu strain can be fatal to humans

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THE Agriculture Department said Thursday the bird flu outbreak in San Luis, Pampanga had tested positive for the H5N6 strain, a strain that could be transmitted to humans.

“Based on the results from the Australia Animal Laboratory, they already tested the N subtype and it tested positive for the N6,” said Arlene Vytiaco, head of the Animal Disease Control Section of the Bureau of Animal Industry. 

“It is a strain that could be transmitted to humans, but the rate of transmission is very, very low.” 

In other developments:

• Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu has ordered the strict monitoring of the wildlife being brought into or out of the country as part of the government’s intensified campaign against poaching and illegal wildlife trade.

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 Cimatu recently issued a memorandum ordering all regional directors of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to boost their surveillance in the ports of entry to curb wildlife trafficking.

• The country has 17.3 million kilograms of chicken in cold storage, and of those 8.9 kilograms are imported and 8.39 million kilograms are from local producers, according to Elias Jose Inciong, president of the United Broiler Raisers Association.

“This volume is more than enough for the country’s consumption and there is no need to import,” Inciong said.

He said the country’s per capita consumption of chicken was 35 kilograms in 2016, an increase of more than 100 percent from 15 kilos in 1986 and indicating that the upswing in chicken consumption was a fairly recent phenomenon.

Vytiaco said many countries with the H5N6 had reported no human cases, and those that had it included Myanmar and Laos.

“There are a lot of countries which have this but only less than 20 people were reported to be affected and they were mostly from China,” Vytiaco said. 

“It is a good thing that the Department of Health conducted surveillance in the farm workers and households [in Pampanga], and there were no other flu-like symptoms aside from those two that were earlier reported but that also tested negative for bird flu.”

Vytiaco said that while H5N6 could be transmitted by direct contact with birds or materials contaminated by the sources of infection, it was unlikely that the virus could be transmitted by human-to-human contact.

According to the 2016 Avian Influenza Protection Program Manual of Procedures of the BAI, bird flu is transmitted to humans by close contact with infected birds or through inhalation or contamination with infected discharges, feces or sick birds; virus is excreted in feces, which dries, is pulverized, and is inhaled; the flapping of wings hastens transmission.

“It could be transmitted by direct contact. If a human-to-human transmission occurs, we call that pandemic influenza but for this strain it is unlikely because it only causes low morbidity plus the mortality rate is even lower,” Vytiaco said.

“We are doing what we can to contain it and the fact that there are no reports of people with flu-like symptoms is good. But we cannot be complacent. We have to complete the protocol stated in the Avian Influenza Protection Program.”

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