THE headlines of almost all newspapers- broadsheets and tabloids- are screaming with the spread of bird flu, with pictures of the so-called slaughter squad- members of the Bureau of Fire Protection and the army, clad in protective suits; gloves, face masks, hairnets, boots and long lab gowns, cleaning, spraying disinfecting cages of chicken, and quails which were infected and died from Avian flu.
Add to that, the graphic pictures of thousands of chicken being culled and later buried and the chilling effect of the fear of possible human illness is magnified hundredfold. The worry becomes more with the spread of the incident from Luis Pampanga and lately into the Jaen and San Isidro towns of Nueva Ecija. Thankfully, the reported incident in faraway Butuan tested negative for the virus.
For starters, avian flu or bird flu is primarily a disease of birds, but it can cause human disease. Bird flu is a form of zoonosis- diseases transferred from animals to humans., which in this case, a respiratory infection with signs and symptoms ranging from flu- influenza-like complaints, fever, cough, sore throat, muscle aches, joint pains to eye infections, and depending on the immune status of the person, to more serious and probably deadly complications like pneumonia and acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS).
Bird flu is one of the so-called emerging and re-emerging infections. Epidemiologists, experts from World Health Organization and their local counterparts have a description of these illnesses - "diseases on the run." Admittedly, in the past, these health authorities were confident that a combination of surveillance, quarantine, vaccines and antimicrobials were enough to mark the beginning of the end of pathogen-caused disease. Obviously, they were wrong!
Not only do "new" or previously-unknown infectious diseases continue to emerge but other illnesses once thought to be contained or eradicated continue to re-emerge. Many causes and reasons for this emergence /re-emergence are forwarded; change in human demographics and behavior, ecological changes such as deforestation which drives some organisms/microbes from their normal habitat, climate change, increased international travel for both humans and their pets, exposure to exotic animals, and yes, misuse and abuse of antibiotics. Add to that the sad reality of the breakdown of public health measures common in Third World countries, the Philippines among them.
Avian flu or bird flu is caused by the Avian influenza virus type A, the three prominent subtypes are designated H5, H7 and H9. The strain known as H5N1 is the most virulent. Transmission is thru contact with birds' tears, saliva, urine and droppings, easily transmitted from one bird to another in close physical contact. Birds are main reservoir- any site where a pathogen or infectious organism can multiply and simply survive until it is transferred to a susceptible host. Reservoirs could be living organisms or inanimate objects. Among the living reservoirs are humans, their pet fowls, wild animals, certain insects and arachnids like ticks and mites. At his juncture, it is well to emphasize that the reservoir-human or animal e.g. bird) may or may not be experiencing any illness caused by the pathogen or infectious agent they are harboring. At the moment, health authorities assure the public that human to human transmission is rare. Your columnist however wants to share the reality that the Avian or bird flu agent, being a virus could easily mutate, and might in the very near future, change its pathogenic behavior and may cause more serious human disease especially respiratory illnesses.
We derive a consoling thought that agencies of the government- Department of Agriculture, Bureau of Animal Industry, Department of Health and other organizations are putting their heads together to contain this serious health issue, thus it is prudent on every citizen to heed the warnings and obey the advices of health authorities. Forewarned is forearmed!