Taking cue from WHO, DOH monitors H5N1 avian influenza


Posted at Feb 09 2023 02:15 PM

A dead duck at a poultry farm in San Luis, Pampanga on Aug. 15, 2017. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News/File
A dead duck at a poultry farm in San Luis, Pampanga on Aug. 15, 2017. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News/File

MANILA — The Department of Health is closely monitoring developments of the H5N1 avian influenza, which has been reported in some countries.

At the sidelines of the launch of new facilities at the Philippine Orthopedic Center Thursday, Vergeire said the agency is preparing for the possible health event.

“Matatandaan niyo may pumutok na na ganitong balita sa ibang bahagi ng mundo kung saan H5N1 ay binabantayan. So, last year nag-convene tayo ng Interagency Committee on Environmental Health, kasama 'yun sa mga parang strengthened ng surveillance,” she said.

Her statement comes after the the World Health Organization called for vigilance after the recent detection of bird flu in mammals, but tried to calm fears that large-scale human outbreaks could be looming.

"The recent spillover to mammals needs to be monitored closely," WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters Wednesday, stressing that "for the moment, WHO assesses the risk to humans as low".

Since late 2021, Europe has been gripped by its worst-ever outbreak of bird flu, with North and South America also experiencing severe outbreaks.

This has led to the culling of tens of millions of domestic poultry worldwide, many with the H5N1 strain of the virus. The global outbreak is also responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of wild birds.

The recent detection of the disease in a number of mammals, including foxes, otters, minks, sea lions and even grizzly bears, has sparked growing concern that humans could be more at risk.

Tedros noted that since the virus first emerged in 1996, "we have only seen rare and non-sustained transmission of H5N1 to and between humans."

But, he cautioned, "we cannot assume that will remain the case, and we must prepare for any change in the status quo."

Tedros called on countries to "strengthen surveillance in settings where humans, farmed or wild animals interact."

"WHO is also continuing to engage with manufacturers to make sure that if needed, supplies of vaccines and antivirals would be available for global use," he said.

Over the last two decades, there have been 868 confirmed H5N1 cases in humans with 457 deaths, according to the WHO. There were four confirmed human cases and one death last year.


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— With reports from Raphael Bosano, ABS-CBN News; Agence France-Presse