Bird flu triggers ban on fowl shipment

THE Agriculture department has banned the shipment of fowl from Luzon to other parts of the country after an avian flu outbreak in Pampanga.

In a post on his Facebook page, Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol said, however, that the order does not apply to imports of chicks, hatching eggs and other fowl, which can still be shipped with “stringent quarantine protocols.”

“This means that chicken brought in from the United States intended for shipment to the Visayas or Mindanao may not be taken out of the boxes and must be loaded directly into the connecting flights,” Piñol said.

At least 200,000 birds, chicken, ducks, quails, pigeons and fighting roosters in areas affected by the outbreak in Pampanga are already being gathered for slaughter, he said, adding that the owners of these will be compensated at P80 a head.

Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol

Piñol said the Health department has confirmed that the strain that has infected 37,000 fowl, mostly chickens, in San Luis town in Pampanga was Type A Sub-Type H5, which does not affect humans.

Workers and residents of the town have not shown any signs of illness since the outbreak in April, he said.

The Bureau of Animal Industry has declared a one-kilometer radius quarantine zone around the farms where the outbreak was confirmed.

There is also an existing seven-kilometer radius “controlled zone” in Pampanga, where no fowl, eggs or other products can be brought out.

Piñol said that at least 100 quarantine officers have been deployed within the controlled zone.

All vehicles coming out of the area will be sprayed with disinfectants to ensure the containment of the virus, he said.

In 21 days, the department will deploy “sentinel birds” in the affected farms to determine if the virus is still present. Quarantine restrictions will be lifted after 90 days if the sentinel birds show no sign of infection.

“This is the first time that the country has recorded the presence of the bird flu virus and I am calling on all Filipinos to please help [the] government contain this crisis by cleaning up their farms and closely monitoring their chicken for any signs of disease,” he said.

The Palace said the government is monitoring the situation closely.

“We are closely watching the quality and the price of poultry products in the markets as the Department of Agriculture [DA] announced the culling of thousands of chicken in Pampanga,” said Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella.

“We believe DA has acted fast on the issue and has managed to isolate and contain the virus,” Abella said.

“Concerned government agencies are now looking at businesses that might take advantage of the situation and are monitoring the price of raw and processed chicken meat in the markets,” Abella said.

“While we assure the public that there would be no price increase in chicken meat as there is only one area affected by the avian flu, we must see to it that uncontaminated meat is sold in the markets,” Abella added.

Abella said there has been no report of bird-to-human contamination in the first outbreak of bird flu in the country, which was disclosed by Piñol on Friday.

“We ask our people to remain calm yet vigilant. Any person living or residing in affected areas or who had been exposed to dead chickens who becomes sick with flu or flu-like illness, such as fever and/or sore throat/cough should immediately report to their local health center or nearest hospital for laboratory test,” Abella said.

He noted that the Health department said bird flu is transferred through respiratory routes and “properly cooked chicken meat and eggs remain safe to eat.”

Health Assistant Secretary Eric Tayag said proper hygiene, especially hand washing, and careful food preparation were the first line of defense against infection.

Tayag also urged anyone who becomes sick after handling chicken meat to immediately go to a hospital to get tested.

A state of calamity has been declared in Pampanga.

Senator Francis Pangilinan in a statement said the Agriculture and Health departments should launch a massive public information campaign about the virus to prevent its spread.

The DA said as many as 131,500 chickens, quails and ducks from poultry farms in the villages of San Carlos and Sta. Rita would be destroyed.

Poultry farm owner Linda Sumat wept as she watched. She said the outbreak meant huge financial losses because even egg layers that showed no symptoms of avian flu would also be culled.

Every bird within a kilometer quarantine zone set up by the government was marked for destruction by the DA.

Sumat said she hoped the government would fulfill its promise to pay for the culled fowls but said the P80 price per head was low.

The DA was expected to set aside at least P1.6 million of its budget to compensate the farmers for the birds that will be culled. The amount is apart from a loan package that Piñol had committed to the farmers in the region.

Some three million to five million layers of Minalin and the nearby town of Sto. Tomas—the egg basket of the Philippines—remain safe from bird flu because they have been vaccinated, said Beth Pineda, owner of U.B. Farm, one of the biggest poultry raisers in Pampanga with 400,000 layers.

Minalin, a fourth class municipality and the nearby town Sto. Tomas are called the country’s egg basket because they produce about three-million eggs a day.

Poultry raisers in Minalin believe the the first bird flu that visited the country originated from quails, and ducks while government said that it came from migratory birds from the Candaba swamps and peking duck imported from China. With Romeo Dizon