Pampanga bird flu strain may jump to humans

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THE Department of Agriculture (DA) said on Thursday the avian flu that infected poultry in the provinces of Pampanga and Nueva Ecija was of the H5N6 strain, a virus that is transmittable to humans and has no vaccine.

“Based on results from the Australia Animal Health Laboratory, they tested for the N subtype and it was tested positive for N6,” said Arlene Vytiaco, head of the Animal Disease Control Section of the DA’s Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI).

The N6 sub-strain can be transmitted to humans, but the rate of mortality is “very low,” Vytiaco said.

“The Department of Health conducted surveillance on farm workers, and except for two people, no one had flu-like symptoms. The two farmers who exhibited symptoms [tested]negative,” she said.


Vytiaco said three other countries in Southeast Asia – Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam – as well as Japan already had the H5N6 virus, but yielded no human cases.

Outbreaks of the H5N6 strain had been reported in China, Laos, Hong Kong, Japan, Myanmar, South Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam and Greece.

The last known human case of avian influenza A(H5N6) transmission was recorded in China on December 1, 2016.

Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol assured the public that the H5N6 strain did not put human health at risk.

“The fact that the farm workers had been there since April, and none of them got sick is an assurance that it’s not that serious,” Piñol said.

“Actually, early on, we’ve already received an unconfirmed report that it was the H5N6 strain, but of course in the absence of official confirmation I decided not to divulge it,” he added.

No vaccine

Piñol said his agency was coordinating with the Health department to ensure that farmers from San Luis, Pampanga and the towns of San Isidro and Jaen in Nueva Ecija would not be infected by the virus.

“There is no vaccine for the virus because we cannot develop a cure since we did not have a strain that is present or existing,” he said.

Authorities have yet to determine how the virus managed to enter and infect a farm in San Luis, Pampanga.

“The bio-security experts are still looking into these. We don’t yet have conclusive findings on how the bird flu virus reached that quail farm in Pampanga and spread to other areas,” he said.

Piñol said at least 407,604 fowls in Pampanga have been culled and about 253,900 from Nueva Ecija have been killed to prevent the spread of the disease to other areas.

“So as of today, we can safely say that we have completed the culling operations within the 1-kilometer radius, and in the case of San Luis we have completed the culling operations in the farms that volunteered to have their fowls culled to contain the virus,” he said.

On Wednesday, Piñol announced that poultry and poultry products could again be shipped out of Luzon, subject to strict veterinary inspections for those coming from a 7-kilometer radius of the infected areas. Balut or duck eggs must be cooked first before being sold outside Luzon.

“But these [the farms]will undergo strict veterinary inspections before we will allow them to ship fresh balut eggs. There will be thorough inspection by our bio-security experts certifying that these came from farms that had been inspected,” he said.

Duterte to eat balut

The Agriculture chief also said the poultry industry had appealed to President Rodrigo Duterte to help in the campaign to educate consumers that poultry and poultry products in the market were safe to eat.

“I told the President the request of the poultry stakeholders for him to personally eat balut eggs, and he agreed.

When the President himself eats poultry products, that is an assurance to the Filipino people that it is safe to eat chicken and poultry products,” Piñol said.

Duterte will travel to San Fernando, Pampanga for simple ceremonies on Monday, where he will acknowledge the support of local officials, soldiers, policemen, and volunteers in containing bird flu.

The President will award payments to farmers whose fowls were culled, after which he will join a ‘boodle fight” where he will partake of balut, chicken barbeque, and fried itik (ducks), Piñol said.

 with Kenneth Hernandez

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