Report flu-like symptoms ASAP
Malacañang on Saturday called on people living in areas affected by the avian flu outbreak to report to health authorities as soon as they fall ill with flu-like symptoms and a senator urged the government to launch a massive information campaign on the disease and go after profiteers.
Presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella said there has been no report of bird-to-human contamination in the first outbreak of the bird flu in the country, which was disclosed by Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol on Friday.
“We ask our people to remain calm yet vigilant,” Abella said. “Any person living or residing in affected areas or who had been exposed to dead chickens who becomes sick with flu or flu-like illness, such as fever and/or sore throat/cough should immediately report to their local health center or nearest hospital for laboratory test.”
He said the Department of Health (DOH) has assured that bird flu is transferred via respiratory routes and “properly cooked chicken meat and eggs remain safe to eat.”
Health Assistant Secretary Eric Tayag said proper hygiene, especially handwashing, and careful food preparation were the first line of defense against infection.
Tayag also urged anyone who becomes sick after handling chicken meat to immediately go to a hospital to get tested.
Piñol said tests done by the Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI) and University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB) confirmed the H5 strain of the avian flu virus at a farm in San Luis, Pampanga, after its owner belatedly reported that his chickens, quails and ducks had died suddenly.
State of calamity
The chickens from San Luis, however, have tested negative for the H5N1 strain, which could be transmitted and fatal to humans, said Dr. Arlene Vytiaco, head of BAI’s Animal Disease Control Section.
A state of calamity has been declared in Pampanga.
Sen. Francis Pangilinan in a statement said the Department of Agriculture (DA) and the DOH should launch a massive public information campaign about the virus to prevent its spread.
He called on President Duterte and concerned agencies to craft a “comprehensive plan of action” to deal with the outbreak.
“Of utmost importance is to control the spread of the virus and to prevent it from taking people’s lives and more livelihood,” Pangilinan said.
The Department of Trade and Industry should stop profiteers who take advantage of the situation by increasing the prices of chicken meat and processed food, Pangilinan said.
Piñol said about 200,000 chickens, including free-range and strays, would be culled and quarantine checkpoints have been established in Pampanga to prevent the spread of the disease.
Wearing protective gear, government veterinarians on Saturday began the culling in Barangay San Carlos in San Luis where the outbreak began.
About five infected chickens and 20 quails were stuffed per sack to be gassed with carbon dioxide and later buried in the farms where they had been raised.
The DA said as many as 131,500 chickens, quails and ducks from poultry farms in the villages of San Carlos and Sta. Rita would be destroyed.
Poultry farm owner Linda Sumat wept as she watched. She said the outbreak meant huge financial losses because even egg layers that showed no symptoms of avian flu would also be culled.
Every bird within a kilometer quarantine zone set up by the government was marked for destruction by the DA.
Payment for culled fowls
Sumat hoped the government would fulfill its promise to pay for the culled fowls but said the P80 price per head was low.
The DA was expected to set aside at least P1.6 million of its budget to compensate the farmers for the birds that will be culled. The amount is apart from a loan package that Piñol had committed to the farmers in the region.
BAI Assistant Director Simeon Amurao said prices of chicken could decrease and then increase due to a possible shortage.
“Poultry owners may decide to kill their chickens to avoid bird flu and sell them at a lower price. But after that, there may be a shortage, which will eventually lead to higher prices,” he said.
Vytiaco said at least 116,000 layers—chickens raised for commercial egg production—were affected by the flu.
Central Luzon, which includes Pampanga, is the country’s second biggest source of layers, according to the Philippine Statistics Authority.
As of Jan. 1 this year, the country’s total chicken inventory was 175.32 million, 2 percent lower compared to last year. —With reports from Tonette Orejas and Jhoanna Ballaran