All suspected human cases of bird flu tested negative: Ubial

MANILA — The Department of Health (DOH) confirmed Tuesday that 39 patients, who have been exposed to chickens in areas with a bird flu outbreak and have shown flu-like symptoms, have tested negative of avian influenza.

Sa ngayon, ang na-establish natin is lahat ng sakit ay confined sa manok or sa fowls. Wala pong na-transmit sa tao (As of now, we have established that bird flu has been confined to fowls. The disease has so far not been transmitted to humans),” Health Secretary Dr. Paulyn Ubial said.

Ubial said nasopharyngeal swabs (NPS) and blood samples taken from the patients, which were sent to the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) for confirmatory tests, yielded negative results.

The suspected bird flu patients were poultry farm workers who handled or culled chickens in Pampanga and Nueva Ecija where there has been a bird flu outbreak.

Ubial said the continued absence of any human case of avian flu only proves that bird-to-human transmission of the virus is low and difficult in tropical countries like the Philippines.

The H5N6 strain of bird flu found in the two provinces is considered highly pathogenic, according to RITM dicrector, Dr. Socorro Lupisan.

This means it could lead to death among humans if the illness is not managed properly or if complications arise, especially if the patient has pre-existing chronic illnesses, such as diabetes and hypertension.

The health department has repeatedly warned that the virus can be transmitted via the respiratory route or through direct exposure to infected fowls or birds, and those handling and culling chickens in affected farms are at risk.

Handling and culling infected chickens expose a person to the fowls’ aerosolized secretions, which could then find their way into bodily orifices, such as the eyes, nose and mouth.

So as not to contract bird flu, the health department has strongly advised the public to avoid exposure to live birds and fowls in infected areas, wash their hands properly, especially after touching fecal matter, and use disinfectant solutions.

However, the DOH has also allayed public fears of eating poultry as Ubial and other health and agriculture officials ate chicken and eggs in front of the press last Friday. This is to prove that well-cooked chicken is safe for consumption and not all chickens in the country are infected with bird flu.

President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday also joined a boodle fight in San Fernando, Pampanga to assure the public that poultry products are safe to eat.

Meanwhile, the DOH said that since culling activities in both provinces ended last Aug. 24, they are expecting their monitoring to end on Sept. 3 if no one is suspected to have been contaminated.