DoH affirms ‘very rare’ risk of bird-flu infection

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By Ian Nicolas P. Cigaral, Reporter

THE Department of Health (DoH) on Friday said there were no confirmed cases of avian influenza transmitted to humans following an outbreak in Pampanga earlier this month that had been noticed locally as early as April.

The first bird flu outbreak was reported in the municipality of San Luis in the Luzon province of Pampanga this month. A similar case was subsequently found in the Jaen town in the province of Nueva Ecija, also in Luzon.

The Department of Agriculture (DA), citing laboratory tests in Australia, said earlier the bird-flu strain that hit Pampanga has been identified as H5N6, which has a “very, very” low risk of infecting and killing humans.

In a televised press conference, Health Secretary Paulyn Jean B. Rosell-Ubial said that while there were no confirmed cases of human infection by the virus, her department monitored 34 suspected cases, 30 of them from Pampanga and four from Nueva Ecija.

She said all 34 were negative of the avian flu virus after being isolated for manifesting flu-like symptoms while some had diarrhea.

But Ms. Ubial said DoH is still watching over the conditions of seven more suspected cases.

Nonetheless, she assured the public that transmission to humans of H5N6 is “very rare” and that eating chicken meat and other poultry products is “not a risk of transmission.”

“It is transmitted by respiratory route or by direct contact [with infected birds]. You have to have exposure to fowl or birds,” she said.

“In response to this current health threat we are facing, we are working closely with the Department of Agriculture,” she added.

The Philippines has so far culled more than 470,000 birds in three towns in Pampanga and Nueva Ecija since Aug. 11.

The scare arising from the outbreak saw chicken and egg prices in wet markets drop last week and prompted major food firms to give assurances that their products are safe.

President Rodrigo R. Duterte is scheduled to visit Pampanga next week to feast on duck eggs and chicken barbecue to assure consumers that it is safe to eat poultry goods.