MANILA, Philippines – The strain of the avian flu virus that hit poultry farms in Pampanga, which later spread to Nueva Ecija, is transmissible to humans, the Department of Agriculture (DA) confirmed after the agency received test results of the samples it sent to the Australian Animal Health Laboratory.
At a press conference in Quezon City on Thursday, Dr. Arlene Vytiaco, head of the Animal Disease Control Section of the DA’s Bureau of Animal Industry, said that while the H5N6 influenza is a cross-species infection, its “rate of mortality and transmission is very, very low.”
According to the department, the persons most vulnerable to the virus are those working in H5N6-affected farms. But DA Secretary Emmanuel Piñol said the “fact that farm workers have been there since April and none of them got sick, its an assurance” that the strain “is not serious.”
Vytiaco said H5N6 “only causes low morbidity” and the “mortality rate is even lower.” She said that of the 130,335 cases worldwide of people who contracted the virus, “less than 20” had been affected.
The DA said poultry products are still safe for consumption despite the virus infection.
“(The)…products are safe to eat because they’ve passed through strict quarantine regulations…Pag and’yan na sa merkado may [When these are already in the market, there is already] confidence (that) those are safe to eat,” said Vytiaco.
Piñol said President Rodrigo Duterte would show support to the poultry industry by going to San Fernando, Pampanga on Monday to eat poultry products being sold there.
“With the President endorsing it’s safe to eat balut (one-day-old chick), chicken barbecue, and itik (duck), I believe the confidence of consumers on poultry products will go back to its former level and sales will prop up again,” the DA chief said.
The government is still investigating how the virus hit the country and spread in Central Luzon farms as the culling of fowls in affected Nueva Ecjia farms continues.
The DA advised people who live within or near H5N6-affected areas to seek help from the Department of Health if they start to feel symptoms of influenza such as cough, flu, and loss of strength and appetite.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, human infections with bird flu viruses “can happen when enough virus gets into a person’s eyes, nose or mouth, or is inhaled.”
“This can happen when virus is in the air (in droplets or possibly dust) and a person breathes it in, or when a person touches something that has virus on it then touches their mouth, eyes or nose.”
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