Bird flu strikes Philippine town

LINGAYEN, Pangasinan (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN) - Two hundred thousand birds will be culled after the Philippines reported its first outbreak of avian flu. 

Hundreds of thousands of chickens in a town in Pampanga that had been stricken with the avian flu would be culled to prevent the spread of the disease, Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol said on Friday.

“This is a critical problem because this is the first time that avian flu occurred in our country. Hopefully, we can control (the disease),” Piñol told reporters in Lingayen, Pangasinan, where he attended the Luzon mango stakeholders’ forum.

Piñol initially announced that up to 400,000 chickens would be slaughtered “but upon actual inspection 200,000 birds will be culled,” including free range and strays, he said.

Tests done by the Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI) and University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB) confirmed the H5 strain of the avian flu virus at the San Luis, Pampanga, farm after its owner belatedly reported that his chickens, quails and ducks had died suddenly, Piñol said.

Celia Carlos, director of the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine, said it was the first avian flu outbreak in the country.

Negative

The chickens from San Luis, however, have tested negative for the H5N1 strain, which could be transmitted and fatal to humans, said Dr. Arlene Vytiaco, head of BAI’s Animal Disease Control Section.

BAI personnel visited the affected farm on Aug. 4 after receiving reports about the deaths of the birds, Vytiaco said.

A series of tests conducted on samples taken from the farm in the succeeding days by the BAI, UPLB, the Department of Health and the Department of Agriculture (DA) confirmed the infection on Thursday, she said.

The DA has marked at least 132,500 birds in San Luis for extermination, according to San Luis Mayor Venancio Macapagal.

Culling

Culling will take place in five egg-producing chicken farms and four quail farms in Barangay San Carlos as well as four duck farms in neighboring Barangay (village) Sta. Rita, Vytiaco said.

The infected birds will be placed in container vans and gassed with carbon dioxide and their carcasses would be buried in the farms. The process will take three days.

“We did not divulge the problem right away because we wanted to make sure that no birds would be taken out of San Luis [by poultry farmers or game fowl owners],” Piñol said.

He said the DA had to first set up quarantine stations at all exit points in San Luis.

Macapagal said checkpoints have also been set up in Barangay San Carlos to prevent the sale or the unauthorized disposal of the infected chickens and poultry byproducts such as eggs and manure.

The DA also stopped the movement of chickens from Luzon to other areas and banned the entry of exotic birds from other countries to the Philippines.

Piñol said the government was checking if the virus was brought in by migratory birds that visited the Candaba Swamp near San Luis, or was carried by contaminated Peking ducks smuggled into the country.

The flu was first detected at a poultry farm in Barangay San Carlos, where 15,000 birds had died in April.

Criminal prosecution

“The farm owner did not immediately report the disease to authorities so it spread to other farms,” Piñol said. “It tried self-medication and did not seek the DA’s help. That’s why it is important to report.”

He said authorities were considering the criminal prosecution of farm owners who do not report diseases that affect their farms.

Piñol directed BAI Director Enrico Garzon Jr. to investigate whether local veterinarians also kept the infection under wraps. None of the six affected farms had veterinary health certificates and shipping permits required in the transport of animals across provinces and regions.

Piñol said farmers would be initially compensated for the culled birds at P80 (US$1.57) per head.

State of calamity

He urged governors and mayors to enforce quarantine measures. The maximum quarantine period is 90 days.

On Friday, Pampanga Gov. Lilia Pineda said a state of calamity was declared in the province to help local governments institute preventive measures.

Rosendo So, chair of the industry group Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura (Sinag), said the government should have first conducted a confirmatory test before announcing an outbreak.

“It happened in 2004, when it tested positive initially then confirmatory tests in Australia revealed it was negative. That should be the protocol,” he said, lamenting that damage had already been done to the local poultry industry by then.

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