DOH on Pampanga outbreak: Immediately report cases of sick, dead chickens

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Story updated to include Health Assistant Secretary Eric Tayag's statements.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 12) — Department of Health (DOH) Assistant Secretary Eric Tayag urged the public to report cases of sick or dead chickens to authorities right away.

"You don't hide these events because you fear that you'll lose money and because it's bad for business," Tayag said on Newsroom Weekend on Saturday. "You have to report it because we have to contain it fast."

He said this the first case of bird flu outbreak in the country.

"We hope that (it) doesn't jump species, meaning it is not going to transmit to humans," Tayag added.

Tayag also said it could up to 90 days before an area is declared bird-flu free.

Health Secretary Paulyn Ubial, meanwhile, has ordered the deployment of epidemiologists, who investigate the cause of diseases, to the affected areas to search for cases.

Properly cooked chicken safe to eat

Officials said it is safe to eat chicken meat, eggs and other poultry products — as long as they are "properly cooked," government officials said.

Malacañang on Saturday called on the public to remain calm but vigilant following the country's first outbreak of bird flu virus in the town of San Luis, Pampanga, around 80 kilometers away from Manila.

"Properly cooked chicken meat and eggs remain safe to eat," Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella said in a statement quoting the Department of Health (DOH).

According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Health Organization, chicken and other poultry must be cooked at or above 70 degrees Celsius, the amount of heat needed to kill the Avian Influenza virus – which can cause illness and death to animals and humans.

Abella said the government is closely monitoring the situation in Pampanga, spearheaded by the DOH and the Department of Agriculture (DA), which will provide "flu vaccinations and protective equipment for poultry handlers and responders."

Pampanga Gov. Lilia Pineda told CNN Philippines virus has not spread to other areas outside San Luis.

"Nandun lang talaga sa bayan ng San Luis pero para nga lang kami makasiguro, kailangan namin talaga na i-test lahat at kausapin yung farm stakeholders," Pineda said.

[Translation: "It's really in the town of San Luis only, but to be sure, we need to test all farms and talk to all stakeholders."]

She was explaining her decision on Friday to declare a state of calamity in the province, so funds would be released to help the affected farmers.

Related: Pampanga under state of calamity due to bird flu outbreak

No human infected

Malacañang said "there has been no report of bird-to-human contamination" as of Saturday.

Although the major epidemic of bird flu in the U.S. did not document any crossover of the bird flu virus to humans, one case has been recorded each in Vietnam and Hong Kong, Health Secretary Paulyn Ubial said Friday.

"Cross infection to human have been minimal but fatal," she added.

In case of infection, Dr. Jessie Fantone, head of DOH-Central Luzon Epidemiology Unit, told CNN Philippines hospitals will follow the same protocol used for Middle East Respiratory Syndrome - Corona Virus (MERS-CoV), a viral respiratory disease.

This means anyone who has flu-like symptoms must report to their local government unit so they can be taken to regional hospitals for isolation and monitoring.

The DOH has put in place heightened surveillance for flu-like symptoms within the 7-kilometer radius of the quarantine area. It includes the towns of Apalit, Candaba, Minalin, Sta. Ana, Sto. Tomas, Mexico, San Simon, and city of San Fernando, the provincial capital.

"Other flocks of poultry can be affected so easily," Tayag said. "The 7-kilometer radius is to make sure that it hasn't spread beyond the 1-kilometer radius."

Containing the outbreak

The Department of Agriculture (DA) earlier said around 200,000 chicken, ducks and quails will be "culled" or killed within the 1-km radius of the six affected farms.

Pineda on Saturday said the culling has not began but authorities are already preparing for it.

DA Sec. Manny Piñol also said there would be a ban on shipment of poultry from Luzon to other parts of the country, as precautionary measure.

What to do

While the DA is investigating the bird flu outbreak, Ubial on Friday advised the public to take these safety precautions:

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 fowls;

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.

The DOH said the country has a supply of anti-flu medication when needed by regional health offices and hospitals.

Meanwhile, Tayag said chicken farmers must practice "biosecurity" by ensuring that chickens are contained and that their quarters are clean.

"One of the biosecurity measures is that chickens are not allowed outisde their confines and mingle with other animals," he said. "Droppings from birds can infect what they eat. Therefore, the place should be secured so that droppings will not contaminate anything the chickens are fed with."

He also said those directly handling chickens, who are the most at risk of contracting bird flu, should use personal protective equipment.

Pampanga-based stringer Justine Dizon contributed to this report.