DoH ramps up bird flu preps, even as no human cases recorded

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 25) — There are no confirmed cases so far of humans infected with bird flu in the Philippines, health officials have announced.

Despite this, the Department of Health (DoH) is ramping up preparations to prevent the bird flu's spread among humans, especially as new studies show the virus is becoming deadlier.

The DoH has monitored 34 suspected cases since the bird flu outbreak began this month, but they all tested negative, Health Secretary Paulyn Ubial said in a press briefing on Friday.

READ: Agriculture Department: PH bird flu strain transmissible to humans

All of the patients were poultry farmers or workers in culling operations, she explained. They displayed flu-like symptoms like cold, cough, headaches, and body pain. Upon check-up, the DoH immediately isolated the patients and gave them antivirals until laboratory results confirmed they did not carry the virus.

Another seven suspected cases were referred to the DoH on Friday; test results are expected to come out over the weekend.

The Avian influenza that hit parts of the Philippines has been confirmed to be the H5N6 strain, which can be passed on from infected birds to humans.

The DoH repeated the Agriculture department's call for calm. "It's very rare that we see bird-to-human transmission for H5N6," Ubial said.

According to the World Health Organization, there have only been 16 cases of human infection since H5N6 first began in 2014. Of these cases, only six have died.

The Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM), however, warned that the virus' case fatality rate seems to be on the rise. Citing latest studies, RITM Director Soccoro Lupisan said the chances of a patient recovering from H5N6 is at about "30-50%."

"It is hard for humans to catch H5N6, but if they do get it, there is a higher likelihood some could die from the virus," she told reporters on Friday.

According to data, older people and those with underlying medical conditions are more vulnerable to H5N6, Lupisan said. She added that human-to-human transmission, while possible, is unlikely.

The DoH advised the public to avoid getting exposed to live birds that could have been exposed to bird flu. Those who do work with live birds and other poultry products should wear protective equipment and practice regular hand-washing.

As for consumers, Ubial reiterated that humans cannot catch the virus from eating poultry products. To be safe, though, she encouraged the public to cook poultry products well and disinfect kitchens after cooking.