The Philippines is now free of the highly-pathogenic H5N6 avian influenza (AI), a bird flu strain that could potentially affect humans.
The Department of Agriculture (DA) on Tuesday announced that the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) declared that as of 8 January the country is now free of the last remaining strain of the AI.
The country resolved the bird flu outbreaks in a commercial layer poultry farm in Pampanga, and backyard poultry farms in a village in Rizal.
Agriculture chief William Dar welcomed the development, noting that poultry meat is a highly popular animal protein source among Filipinos.
“I congratulate the DA-BAI (Bureau of Animal Industry) and the local governments of Pampanga and Rizal, whose swift action resulted in limiting the further spread of the AI A(H5N6) strain to other areas,” Dar said.
In its report to the OIE, the DA-attached BAI said the affected farms showed no further evidence of the AI virus during the monitoring and surveillance.
“We had not detected any case of AI A(H5N6) among the poultry and other bird population in the last 90 days after the completion of cleaning and disinfection in the affected farms, surveillance and monitoring, and completion of the 35-day restocking period with sentinel animals in Pampanga and Rizal,” BAI Director Ronnie Domingo said.
The recurrence of bird flu was confirmed on 10 July 2020, after the owner of the commercial layer farm notified the Pampanga provincial veterinary office about the sudden drop in egg production and abnormal mortalities.
Another case was detected in Rizal, as reported by a farmer on 26 August 2020, to the municipal veterinary office of Taytay.
The backyard farm had approximately 500 heads of free-range chicken and 300 heads of Muscovy ducks.
Clinical signs such as wry neck or torticollis, cyanosis, and death were observed since 10 August 2020.
As a result of the swift action of the farm owners, sanitary control and containment operations to prevent the further spread of the virus were carried out immediately.
The Philippines also resolved the outbreak cases in 2017 and in 2018.
According to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), the Philippines has 117 important bird areas (IBA) in the country and about 150,000 migratory birds nest and breed annually in Central Luzon alone.
The DA-BAI, thus, urges poultry raisers in Central Luzon and in traditional IBA to protect and shield their farms from the entry of migratory birds, and immediately report any unusual poultry mortalities.
The highly pathogenic H5N6 AI is a disease among poultry that can affect humans. Globally, there have been only a few cases of human infections, and all of these were reported in China.
Humans are said to be infected through secretions from quails, but the BAI assured that human transmissions are rare.
The World Health Organization (WHO) said it has not received reports of new cases of human infection with H5N6 between 31 January and 6 February 2020.
But in a February last year, the WHO said a total of 24 laboratory-confirmed cases of human infection with H5N6 — including seven deaths — have been reported from China since 2014.