MANILA - The Department of Health is monitoring suspected bird flu cases in humans on Friday after 34 farm workers in Pampanga and Nueva Ecija developed flu-like symptoms after direct exposure to fowl.
Speaking to reporters, Health Secretary Paulyn Jean Ubial said 34 people who showed flu-like symptoms tested negative for the H5N6 virus "but we are waiting for the results for 7 more suspected cases."
The patients have been isolated at the Jose B. Lingad Medical Center in Pampanga while awaiting test results, she said.
Health officials said the bird flu strain found in the Philippines is not easily transmitted to humans, but those infected with the virus may have low chances of recovery.
"Transmission from birds to humans is very, very low, but if you get the disease, the mortality rate is high," Dr. Socorro Lupisan, DOH director for the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine, said.
"Depending on their health condition, only about 30-50 percent (of patients) will recover," Lupisan added.
The H5N6 virus attacks the respiratory system and patients with other health complications such as asthma, diabetes, or low immune system may develop severe infection that may lead to respiratory failure, Dr. Joy Lagayan, Bureau of Animal Industry veterinarian, said.
Humans infected with the H5N6 strain usually have flu-like symptoms such as fever, coughs and colds, and aching joints. Some of them also develop diarrhea, Ubial said.
"No specific medicine has been developed to cure the virus. So we just respond to the symptoms present and prescribe anti-viral medicine," she said.
Only 20 recorded cases of H5N6 infection to humans have been recorded since the virus was first reported to the World Health Organization in 2014. Of the 20 cases, 2 patients from China died.
The health department has advised the public to stay away from live fowls, wash hands as frequently as possible, and to regularly disinfect farming equipment.
The health chief said anti-viral medicine, testing kits, and isolation areas have been prepositioned at the Jose B. Lingad Medical Center in Pampanga and at the Paulino Garcia Memorial Medical Center in Nueva Ecija. With Reuters