July 8, 2005

First case of bird flu hits Philippines

MANILA (Reuters) - The Philippines has suffered its first
case of bird flu after ducks were found to be infected in a
town north of Manila, prompting the country to immediately halt
poultry exports to Japan, government officials said on Friday.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque said samples have been
sent to Australia to determine whether the strain of avian
influenza was the same as the one that has killed dozens of
people elsewhere in Asia.

"There's no cause for alarm," Duque said in a television
interview. "We're still investigating the case."

The government expects to receive results of the tests on
the infected strain in a week.

A quarantine zone has been set up around the town of
Calumpit in Bulacan province to halt the trading and sale of
poultry for a week, in addition to the immediate slaughter of
the affected flocks, government officials said.

The H5N1 strain of the avian influenza virus has killed 54
people of the 154 infected in Asia so far. More than 140
million chickens have been killed in the region to halt bird
flu, causing millions of dollars in losses.

Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap said halting exports to
Japan was a "voluntary" decision by the private sector.

The Philippines is not a big poultry exporter but it has
been shipping cargoes to Japan, which banned supplies from
Thailand where earlier bird flu outbreaks devastated the
poultry industry.

The Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health
jointly assured the people that it was safe to eat chicken and
properly cooked duck meat.

"What we are carefully guarding against is the H5N1 strain,
which is highly pathogenic and can be transmitted to other farm
animals and even people," Yap said. "We can't see the symptoms
of H5N1. The ducks are roaming around and are very healthy, and
there are no signs of flu."

United Nations officials told a conference in Kuala Lumpur
last week that bird flu was entrenched in Asia and it would
take up to a decade to rid the region of the virus and declare
humans, animals and meat safe from infection.