Now it's highly pathogenic bird flu

Now it's highly pathogenic bird flu

Authorities are still trying to determine how the African swine fever virus managed to jump from Luzon to Mindanao. A thousand pigs have been culled in Davao Occidental after confirmation of ASF contamination – the first outside Luzon since the virus was detected in Rizal province last year.

While ASF is not known to jump to humans, it has devastated the local hog industry, especially backyard swine raisers. With the virus reaching Mindanao, Cebu has further tightened measures to protect its local breeders as well as its thriving lechon and chicharon enterprises.

Even before authorities have established how ASF entered Davao Occidental, the national government will have to guard against the emergence of yet another pathogen. A statement over the weekend from the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs declared that H5N1 – a “highly pathogenic subtype” of avian influenza – had killed 4,500 chickens in a farm in Shaoyang City, prompting the local government to cull nearly 18,000 chickens.

Shaoyang is in Hunan province, which is located next to Hubei, epicenter of the raging novel coronavirus outbreak.

Unlike ASF, bird flu can be transmitted to humans. Since 2003, the World Health Organization has recorded 455 human deaths in several countries due to H5N1 flu. The disease can also be as devastating to the poultry industry as ASF is to hog raisers. Highly pathogenic avian flu has killed millions of birds and domestic fowl around the world and caused the destruction of massive numbers of eggs.

Containing avian flu may be easier at this point for China, which has imposed unprecedented lockdowns of entire cities to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. The Philippines, for its part, has dealt with a milder version of avian flu in the past, and has since attained bird flu-free status. This, however, can change overnight.

While no human deaths were recorded in the country during the 2017 avian flu outbreak, hundreds of thousands of chickens, quails and ducks were culled. Humans and the poultry industry must be protected from this more pathogenic version. With ASF still to be contained, the government must ensure that there are sufficient resources to deal with the H5N1 threat.