Philippine airport authorities said Sunday they are prepared to prevent the entry of swine flu in the country following an outbreak in Mexico and the United States which reportedly has already killed 81.
Connie Bungag, officer-in-charge of the Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) media affairs division, said there have been no reports of swine flu infection in the country, but added they will step up thermal screening procedures for inbound passengers amid the swine flu outbreak.
She added, the MIAA will support the directive of the Agriculture Department in coordination with the Bureau of Customs as regards goods coming into the country.
“We are prepared. Since the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) outbreak we never lifted the thermal scanning procedure and even doubled the deployment of medical experts and quarantine doctors… [we] subject inbound passengers to thermal scanners… and then to oral temperature checks to determine virus outbreak,” Bungag said.
The World Health Organization in Switzerland is highly concerned about the outbreak of the new AH1N1I swine virus strain which combines genetic material from birds, swine and humans.
"We still have lots of information that needs to be clarified in terms of transmissibility of the virus and exactly how many people are affected, and we are still waiting for our laboratory results for Mexico. But for several factors this is an unusual enough event for us to be very concerned," WHO spokesperson Gregory Hartl said.
The Department of Health (DOH) said it is preparing for the possible spread of the virus in Asia and the Philippines.
Dr. Eric Tayag of the National Epidemiology Center said the swine influenza can be transmitted through the air or through direct contact with an infected subject.
Transmission can be from pig-to-human and human-to-human.
That it is why the DOH has instructed the Bureau of Quarantine to be on the lookout for arriving airline passengers with flu-like symptoms.
“Swine flu is just like your seasonal flu, wherein patients will come down with high fever, sore throat, and they feel tired. You may also feel nauseous,” Tayag said.
The DOH said it has also alerted its hospitals and has prepared anti-viral medicines in case of an epidemic.
DA imposes ban
The swine flu cannot be acquired by eating infected pork, but the Department of Agriculture (DA) has ordered its concerned agencies to ban the importation of hogs from the US and Mexico.
President Arroyo has also directed the Department of Agriculture to "take all necessary precautionary measures" to prevent swine flu from reaching the country.
"As a precautionary measure I ordered BAI (Bureau of Animal Industry) to strengthen the monitoring of all the ports of entry to prevent the entry of any hogs/pork from Mexico and US,” Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap said in a statement.
The DA will also augment quarantine checkpoints in provinces and will lift restrictions on the use of swine influenza vaccine in local hog farms.
"As of today there's no ongoing outbreak of swine flu in the Philippines. I've also ordered the BAI to lift the restriction in the use of SI vaccine and encourage hog farmers to regularly vaccinate their pigs (herd) against SI as the vaccine will be readily available," Yap said.
In an interview over radio dzRB Sunday, Press Secretary Cerge Remonde added that Yap has informed President Arroyo that the DA veterinarians have been instructed to deploy vaccines to strategic areas in the country and launch a massive information and education campaign among swine farmers and the general public as part of precautionary measures against the virus. With a report from Joey Villarama, ABS-CBN News, and Reuters