AGRICULTURE Secretary Emmanuel Piñol on Friday declared an outbreak of H5 bird flu in Pampanga province, the country’s first, and at the same time ordered the culling of 400,000 chickens to prevent the virus from spreading.
No animal-to-human transmissions have been reported, he said.
“We are officially confirming the outbreak of avian influenza type A subtype H5 in the town of San Luis, Pampanga,” Piñol told reporters in a news briefing on Friday afternoon.
Piñol said six poultry farms in the province were affected and about 37,000 chicken layers have died because of the virus.
“The total reported mortality from the investigated farms was estimated at 37,000 out of 105,984 population, or a 4.5 percent mortality rate as of August 4, 2017,” the Agriculture chief said.
“There were indications of the disease as early as April. The first reported outbreak is in a quail farm, where there were ducks underneath. The ducks were the carriers of avian flu since they had contact with migratory birds,” he added.
Initial samples from a farm in Pampanga that reported very high mortalities in poultry tested positive for an H5 strain at the Bureau of Animal Industry’s Animal Disease Diagnosis and Reference Laboratory.
The samples were found to be negative for other avian respiratory diseases that have similar symptoms such as infectious larynx bronchi disease, infectious bronchitis and the virulent Newcastle disease.
Officials admitted there could still be poultry mortalities in the area that had yet to be reported.
San Luis, about 60 kilometers (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.
State of calamity in Pampanga
Pampanga Gov. Lilia Pineda declared a province-wide state of calamity because of the outbreak of avian disease.
Piñol also admitted authorities still had to determine where the virus came from.
He said he immediately ordered the quarantine of affected areas, aside from the culling of all poultry and destruction of poultry products within a 1-kilometer radius.
“I also called on the local government executives of the other provinces to implement and execute the quarantine
measures. In fact, I urge them to set up quarantine stations in the roads leading the provinces,” he said.
Piñol said the Bureau of Animal Industry had put up a 1-kilometer quarantine zone and 7-kilometer control zone for surveillance.
Twelve quarantine checkpoints were put up within a 1-kilometer radius to check incoming and outgoing vehicles moving livestock and poultry, and to limit animal movements within the area.
Piñol assured poultry farmers they would be compensated for the culled chickens, at a rate of P80 per head.
“Aside from the compensation, we will prepare a long-term package for them so that they will be able to recover,” he said.
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.
Officials have not yet said which H5 subtype the infected birds carried.
Avian influenza is a highly contagious viral disease affecting several species of birds (chickens, turkeys, quails, guinea fowl, etc.) as well as pet birds and wild birds.
Health Secretary Paulyn Jean-Rosell Ubial urged the public to take precautions such as covering the mouth and nose when sneezing or coughing, washing hands often, and taking plenty of liquids.
People should avoid going near wild birds or to farms with fowls and poultry, she said, as the chance of cross-infection, while minimal, is fatal.
The Health department has stepped up surveillance since the reported human influenza outbreaks in Hong Kong and India a few months back.
The World Health Organization (WHO) 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.
WITH KENNETH HERNANDEZ AND AFP