EDITORIAL

Staying on track against the bird flu virus

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The government must stay on the right track in the fight against the avian influenza outbreak without letting go until the A virus is eradicated because this scourge will not go away overnight.

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Swift action is vital, as what the Department of Agriculture and the Bureau of Animal Industry had done, setting up a 1-kilometer quarantine radius and a 7-km control area. Immediately they culled the birds within the quarantine area in San Luis, Pampanga, where the outbreak first evolved, and in the towns of the adjacent province, Nueva Ecija, where the second outbreak came about as confirmed by Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol early Friday.

The Agriculture department has rightfully asked the Armed Forces of the Philippines for personnel support in depopulating the quarantine zones of sick and highly likely infected birds.

The quarantine teams had been immediately established even before the laboratory tests confirmed the presence of the virus.

To stay on track, the authorities should also avoid making premature declarations such as, that the scourge has been licked or is about to end, especially at this juncture when the outbreak is in its early stages and the data on the particular subtype – whether it is of the highly pathogenic H5 strain that is transmissible to humans – has not yet even been determined.

“The majority of human cases of A(H5N1) and A(H7N9) infection have been associated with direct or indirect contact with infected live or dead poultry. Controlling the disease in the animal source is critical to decrease risk to humans,” as the World Health Organization said in a 2016 bird flu fact sheet.

To stay on track, Mr. Piñol also needs to avoid making daring and emotionally charged statements live on national television that he would resign if the outbreak spread to the Visayas and Mindanao.

But by stating so, the Agriculture secretary has put himself in a difficult, precarious lame-duck position. Instead, Mr. Piñol needs to assess the situation squarely and continue finding and applying the right solutions and interventions, because this bird flu scourge has the potential of spreading or staying on for years. The country needs Mr. Piñol to stay the course without flying away from this fight against the bird flu.

The outbreak in China has remained a risk since 1996, with human infection cases soaring again this year. In Hong Kong, where the first case of human infection from bird flu was reported in 1997, the disease inflicted another victim again early this year as the South China Morning Post reported that a 10-year old boy tested positive for H7N9 bird flu after visiting the mainland, quoting the Center for Health Protection of the Department of Health, “making him the fourth such case in the city this winter.”

The US Center for Disease Control and Prevention, citing the most recent report from the WHO, says that 23 more human infections with the Asian H7N9 bird flu brought the total number of such infections during the current fifth epidemic to 688.

“This is the largest epidemic of Asian H7N9 human infections in China since this virus emerged to infect people in 2013,” the CDC’s May 2017 report noted.

So far, the birds being culled in San Luis in Pampanga and in the towns of Jaen and San Isidro in Nueva Ecija boil down to less than 1 percent of the country’s total poultry and duck population. The culling involves 500,000 birds within the quarantine and control zones in San Luis, and an estimated 107,000 birds in Nueva Ecija.

As of January 1, 2017, the total chicken inventory in the country was estimated at 175.32 million birds, data from the Philippine Statistics Authority showed, while the duck inventory totaled 10.84 million.

“I am hoping and praying that Jaen and San Isidro would be the last of our AI problems,” Secretary Piñol said in a recent Facebook posting on the avian influenza.

As long as the government stays on the right track in this fight, the nation should be and will be 100 percent behind it.

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