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After migratory birds, can avian flu be far behind?

/ 03:12 AM October 07, 2011

Environment Secretary Ramon Paje. INQUIRER FILE PHOTO

With the cold comes the birds, and possibly, the bird flu virus.

Nineteen wetlands in Luzon have been placed under close watch as migratory birds from the northern hemisphere, which could be carrying the bird flu virus, start their journey south to escape the bitter winter cold.

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The 19 wetlands in the region have been tagged as “critical” as they are part of the flyway frequented by migratory birds from countries like Malaysia, Singapore, China and Taiwan, according to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources in La Union.

“With the onset of the cold season in our neighbor countries, we expect migratory birds coming in and feeding in our wetland areas,” said DENR regional director Samuel Penafiel.

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The Food and Agriculture Organization recently said there is a resurgence of bird flu virus in Asia, which poses unpredictable risks to human health and the poultry industry.

The FAO said the bird flu virus has mutated into new strains in China and Vietnam and been found in migratory birds.

In 2007, poultry meat being traded from Asia to Europe were found to be carrying the virus.

The Philippines is the only country in Southeast Asia that is free from the avian flu virus. To protect the country from the virus, the Department of Agriculture has banned the import of wild birds, their by-products and derivatives from bird flu-infected countries.

According to the DENR, the critical wetlands which are being closely monitored are located in Pagudpud and Paoay in Ilocos Norte; Caoayan, Bantay and Suyo in Ilocos Sur; Sto. Tomas in La Union; Binmaley, Natividad, San Manuel, Bolinao and Alaminos in Pangasinan.

A report on the Asian Waterfowl Census held early this year indicated that a total of 51 waterbird species was observed in the region’s wetland sites, which are popular with local and foreign birdwatchers.

Among these are egrets (little, intermediate, great and cattle egret), herons (purple, grey, great-billed rufous night and little green heron), bittern, redshrank, greenshrank, wood sand piper, Philippine duck, wandering whistling duck, tufled duck, black-winged stilt, Pacific golden plover, shirebirds, kingfishers, brahminy kite, wagtail and grey-tailed tattler.

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Environment Secretary Ramon Paje earlier reminded communities near the wetlands and coastal areas to refrain from touching birds.

“Enjoy the sight of birds flying freely up in the sky or frolicking in seashores; do not touch them,” he said.

Paje said that the deadly bird flu can be easily transmitted through inhalation or direct contact with discharges or feces of infected birds.

The agriculture department has also reminded poultry and livestock companies near the critical areas to regularly test their animals for the virus.

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TAGS: avian flu, DENR, environment, Health, Migratory birds, Public Health
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