Last Friday, August 11, the Department of Agriculture (DA) confirmed that bird flu (avian influenza subtype H5) killed 37,000 birds -- chickens, quails, and ducks -- in six farms in the town of San Agustin in San Luis, Pampanga. The whole of the province of Pampanga was placed under a state of calamity on the same day.
As of today, there have been no reports of human bird flu cases and the Department of Health (DOH) has given the public assurance that the risk of poultry to human transmission is low, reported The Philippine Star. In a statement, DOH said, “Properly cooked chicken remains safe to eat.”
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), influenza viruses can be killed by normal cooking temperatures. Food should reach 70°C in all its parts. For poultry, the meat should not be pink, and no part of an egg should be runny.
To safely prepare chicken meat and eggs, WHO also advised:
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Do not use the same chopping board or the same knife for raw meat and other foods.
Do not use raw or soft-boiled eggs in food preparations that will not be heat treated or cooked.
Always keep raw meat and eggs separate from cooked or ready-to-eat foods to avoid contamination.
Do not handle both raw and cooked foods without washing your hands in between and do not place cooked meat back on the same plate or surface it was on before cooking.
After handling raw meat, wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water. Wash and disinfect all surfaces and utensils that have been in contact with raw meat.
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“In areas experiencing outbreaks, the consumption of raw or incompletely cooked meat products and eggs is a high-risk practice and should be discouraged. Animals that are clearly sick or that have died of diseases or died unexpectedly should not be eaten,” said WHO.
Bird flu, according to the DOH, is a “contagious disease of birds ranging from mild to severe form of illness.” The infection can be transferred to humans, manifesting as the flu or flu-like symptoms. Though transmission is rare, it causes serious illness that often leads to death, according to DOH Secretary Paulyn Ubial.
Sec. Ubial says they do fear if humans become affected “because [there is] no previous immunity from this type of virus, it can quickly spread,” she said as reported by the Philippine Daily Inquirer. DOH cautioned that anyone who has come in contact with or exposure to dead chickens and is sick with a fever, sore throat and/or a cough should immediately seek medical consultation.
As the disease can be transferred through respiratory routes, such as through breathing in the virus, Ubial has also advised the public to take these safety precautions, reported CNN:
Cover the mouth and nose when sneezing and coughing.
Wash hands often.
Take plenty of water and juices.
Have enough rest and sleep.
Do not go near wild birds or go to farms with fowl.
If you have flu symptoms that last longer than three days or if you feel very weak, see a doctor or go to nearest hospital for testing if it is bird flu
This is the first outbreak of bird flu in the country, said DOH assistant secretary Eric Tayag. But DA secretary Emmanuel Piñol said that the government is “not unprepared for this crisis,” and local officials are ready to handle the situation.
The DA has decided to "cull" (slaughter) around 200,000 to 500,000 chickens (reports vary) to stop the outbreak. A team of epidemiologists has also been dispatched to the affected areas to investigate.
Also, “The DOH has put in place heightened surveillance for flu-like symptoms within the 7-kilometer radius of the quarantine area,” which encompasses several towns in Pampanga, CNN said. Flu vaccinations and protective equipment will also be provided to poultry handlers and responders.
Malacañang has called on the public to remain calm but vigilant.