A strain of bird flu virus that can be passed to humans detected in Pampanga

Published July 30, 2020, 12:43 PM

by Madelaine B. Miraflor

A strain of bird flu virus that can be passed to humans was detected again in Pampanga, the epicenter of the bird flu outbreak in the Philippines back in 2017 that resulted in the death and culling of hundreds of thousands of birds.

One week since the Department of Agriculture’s (DA) Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI) declared Jaen, Nueva Ecija free from avian influenza A (H5N6), the same subtype of the bird flu virus – which can be passed from animals to humans – was recently detected in a poultry layer or egg-producing farm in San Luis, Pampanga.

As part of the protocols under the Avian Influenza Protection Program of the Philippine Government, BAI already ordered the culling of a total of 38,701 head of layers in the vicinity of the bird-flu hit farm.

Right now, BAI is still working with the DA’s regional field office in Central Luzon, provincial veterinary office of Pampanga, and the Local Government Unit (LGU) of San Luis to implement other integrated disease control measures to arrest the spread of the virus.  

BAI Director Ronnie Domingo said all personnel involved in the disease control measures were strictly monitored by the health office of San Luis.

He also assured the virus has not yet been reported and detected among broilers, the primary source of poultry meat.

Initial field investigation showed the presence of migratory birds in San Luis can be associated with the bird flu outbreak.

To be specific, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has so far identified 117 important bird areas (IBA) in the country and about 150,000 migratory birds nest and breed annually in Central Luzon.

Domingo therefore urged poultry raisers in Central Luzon and in traditional IBAs to protect and shield their farms from the entry of migratory birds, and more importantly immediately report any unusual poultry mortalities.

He likewise said that early reporting, detection and strong multi-agency collaboration paved the way for the rapid and effective response in the management of the A(H5N6) incidence.

On Thursday last week BAI declared Jaen, Nueva Ecija free from this bird flu strain nearly five months after the fatal animal disease began killing thousands of quails in the province.

At that time, however, Domingo also admitted that the virus has not been fully wiped out of the country’s poultry farms yet.

According to him, BAI is still “conducting bird flu surveillance in other provinces” and that he is still waiting for the “completion of these field investigations” before the entire Philippines can be declared free from the virus.

He also said that the government is still closely monitoring the continuous entry of migratory birds into the Philippines, which are responsible for the spread of the bird flu virus in many countries.

“At the moment we tell poultry farmers and industry stakeholders we have just completed our AI [avian influenza] surveillance in other high risk provinces. Lab samples are still being processed,” Domingo said.

In February, weeks before H5N6 was detected again the country, DA Spokesperson Noel Reyes said the country is “well-prepared” to guard the country against bird flu, citing a ban that was put in place 16 years ago suspending the importation of poultry products coming from China.

Reyes also said the agency does not see the need to issue a formal reminder that the ban versus poultry imports from bird flu-hit China that was issued in 2004 was still effective.

This, while he also recognized the fact that despite the ban, smuggled chicken meat from the world’s most populated country were still making their way through Philippine borders.