By CHARINA CLARISSE L. ECHALUCE
A team of epidemiologists from the Department of Health (DoH) has been deployed to help the Department of Agriculture (DA) in the avian flu outbreak investigation in Pampanga.
“The Department of Health is now closely monitoring the events surrounding an avian flu outbreak in poultry in Pampanga, as reported by the Department of Agriculture,” the DoH said in a statement yesterday.
On Friday, the DA confirmed the first cases of the dreaded virus in Pampanga. The DA said the virus was found in chickens and ducks in six farms in Barangay San Agustin, San Luis, Pampanga. To prevent the spread of the virus, some 400,000 captive flocks within the area would be destroyed.
“A team of DoH epidemiologists has been dispatched to assist the DA in the outbreak investigation,” it added.
The DoH has also been alerting hospitals in the affected areas to report similar cases.
“The DoH has stepped-up the human flu like-illness surveillance since the reported human influenza outbreaks in Hong Kong and India few months back and will now look for human cases who may have been exposed to avian flu strain in affected areas. Any person who becomes sick with fever and/or sore throat/cough and had exposure to these dead chickens should report to the local health center or nearest hospital for laboratory confirmation,” the DoH stated.
Meanwhile, the agency assured that health authorities can confirm cases of cross infection to humans as well as to handle the infection should there be cases of human influenza.
“The Research Institute for Tropical Medicine has the capacity to confirm these cases. The DoH will coordinate efforts with DA, FAO, and WHO to prevent human cases. The DoH has supply of anti-flu medication and commodities whenever regional health offices and hospitals will require these,” the DoH said.
Earlier, Health Secretary Paulyn Jean Ubial said cross infection of avian flu or bird flu has a minimal chance but could be fatal.
Likewise, the World Health Organization (WHO) explained on its website that “not all avian influenza viruses cause disease in humans. However, some can infect humans and cause severe disease. The most well-known of these are avian influenza H5N1 viruses which circulate in poultry.”
The WHO said the first cases of human infection with avian influenza A (H5N1) were identified in 1997 in Hong Kong.
“The virus infected 18 persons and caused six deaths. Genetic studies subsequently linked the outbreak in humans to an outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza in poultry,” it noted.
“Other outbreaks of avian influenza in humans have caused limited disease. An outbreak of H5N1 in Hong Kong in February 2003 caused two cases and one death. An outbreak of H7N7 avian influenza in the Netherlands caused the death of one veterinarian in April 2003, and mild illness in 83 humans,” it added.
Ubial also gave some reminders on how to avoid avian flu or bird flu.
“We are advising the public to take flu precautions; cover mouth and nose when sneezing and coughing, wash hands often; take plenty water and juices. Have enough rest and sleep. Do not go near wild birds or go to farms with fowls,” she said.
“If you have flu symptoms that last longer than three days or feel very weak, see doctor or go to nearest hospital for testing if its bird flu,” she added.