The Department of Agriculture has confirmed the first case of avian flu in the country, prompting the Department of Health (DOH) to send a team of epidemiologists to assist in the investigation.

Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Pinol said tests conducted by the Bureau of Animal Industry and the University of the Philippines-Los Banos (UPLB) confirmed that a farm in San Luis, Pampanga was found positive with a strain of the virus, H5.

The owner of the farm reported sudden deaths of ducks, quails and chickens in the area.

Avian flu is an infectious disease that affects birds, a subtype of which is H5N1. According to World Health Organization (WHO), subtypes such as H5N1, H7N9, and H9N2 can infect humans.

The agriculture department subsequently announced it would cull 200,000 birds following the discovery, especially those located within a one kilometre radius from the infected farm.

Secretary Pinol admitted there could be as many as hundreds of thousands more of fowl, including stray animals or fighting cocks, that may have need to be killed. The maximum number of birds to be culled could reach one million, he estimates

“We really have to do it, because we don’t want the disease to spread. I already ordered our quarantine department to set up quarantine stations in the area,” the Secretary said.

The good news is that there has been no report of animal to human transmission of the flu.

Possible causes

Reports say the DA is looking at two possible causes of the outbreak: migratory birds or smuggled peking duck from China through Subic, the nearest port from the province.

Secretary Pinol declared there would be a ban to stop transport of possibly infected birds from Luzon to other parts of the country. The virus, he assured, is confined to the area.

With the ban, the DA is looking at other source areas to supply the country, in particular, Mindanao, so it could meet the strong demand for chicken in during the holidays in December.

Both Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and Health Secretary Paulyn ubial have been briefed on the matter, the Agriculture chief said.

Close monitoring

The DOH, in a statement, said that the department is closely monitoring the outbreak. It has sent a team of epidemiologists to assist in the investigation.

Human influenza outbreaks in Hong Kong and India prompted DOH to strengthen its surveillance effort, the Department added.

“Any person who becomes sick with fever and/or sore throat/cough and had exposure to these dead chicken should report to the local health center or nearest hospital for laboratory confirmation,” the health department said.

Hospitals near the area are also being asked to report similar cases, and the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) can confirm the cases.

In particular, health professionals handling patients with flu or displaying flu-like symptoms are asked to observe proper respiratory precautions.

According to WHO, human infections can be acquired through direct contact with infected animals or contaminated environments. But these do not necessarily result in efficient transmission of these viruses between people.

“The DOH has a supply of anti-flu medication and commodities whenever regional health offices and hospitals will require these,” the Department added.

State of calamity

Pampanga Governor Lilia Pineda declared a State of Calamity following the discovery of the Avian flu.

Culling will be conducted in 13 farms, according to Interaksyon, and will be through carbon dioxide suffocation. The total amount of damages could reach Php 2 billion.

In limiting the movement of birds, policemen and agriculture officials have been deployed in exit and entry points in 12 Pampanga towns.

The quarantine period will take 90 days, in which clearing and disinfection activities within affected communities will be done. MIMS

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