AGRICULTURE Secretary Emmanuel Piñol said Governor Lilia Pineda declared a state of calamity on Friday, August 11, in the entire province after the outbreak affected six poultry farms in San Luis town.
Piñol said he was informed Thursday that 37,000 birds have died from avian influenza subtype H5 in what has been declared as the first bird flu outbreak in the country.
He has ordered the slaughter of at least 200,000 fowls, saying the number of birds that will have to be killed could reach 500,000.
A quarantine area was declared within one kilometer of the affected poultry farms in San Luis. Transport of fowls and eggs from a controlled area within a seven-kilometer radius of the affected farms will not be allowed.
“All fowls found within the quarantine area will be culled and buried,” he said.
In an emergency forum with Pampanga officials at a popular chicken restaurant, Piñol said the Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI) and the University of the Philippines at Los Baños confirmed after tests that the H5 strain of the virus was discovered at a farm in Barangay San Agustin in San Luis town after its owner reported that several chickens, quails and ducks had suddenly died.
According to a BAI report, infection may have started as early as May, but poultry operators were reluctant to report the incident.
Piñol said he already informed President Rodrigo Duterte and Health Secretary Paulyn Jean Rosell-Ubial of the outbreak.
He stressed that the Department of Agriculture (DA) is ready to assist poultry owners and farmers once the estimated 200,000 caged fowls including stray fowls and fighting cocks in the town will be exterminated.
“We really have to exterminate the fowls because we don’t want the disease to spread. I already ordered our quarantine department to set up quarantine stations in the area. Alam namin na pag pinatay naming iyung mga manok niyo, mawawalan kayo ng hanap buhay. In the meantime, ano po ang inyong pwedeng gawin? Pag usapan natin iyan kung kailangan niyo ng tulong, financing, at ano pang tulong mula sa DA,” he said.
The secretary also assured officials and the public that the DA was able to confine the virus in the area.
Currently, the avian flu virus is not yet highly pathogenic or deadly, as there are still no reported cases of poultry-to-human contamination, although the World Health Organization said that human infection is primarily acquired through direct contact with infected animals.
The WHO also clarified that there is no evidence that the avian flu can be acquired by eating properly cooked eggs or poultry.
Ubial, for her part, said in a statement that the public should take precautionary measures against the flu.
“Do not go near wild birds or go to farms with fowls! If you have flu symptoms that last longer than three days or feel very weak, see a doctor or go to nearest hospital for testing if its bird flu!” she said.
The infection may cause diseases such as mild conjunctivitis or swelling of the eyes, severe pneumonia and even death. Interaction with humans infected with the flu, however, does not result in “efficient transmission” between people.
Still, a directive banning the shipment of fowls from Luzon to other parts of the country should also be issued, Piñol said.
He said the DA is looking at two possible causes of the avian flu: migratory birds in Candaba swamp in Pampanga; or smuggling of Peking duck from China through Subic, Zambales which is near Pampanga.
Piñol said they were looking for other sources of chicks and hatching eggs outside Luzon, as a possible fowl shortage looms.
He said the DA is looking at Mindanao where there is focus on increased poultry production to meet the strong fowl demand in December. (Jovi de Leon with Chris Navarro)