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PHL may regain bird flu-free status by year-end

The Philippines may regain its bird flu-free status in December, after all the necessary measures to manage the virus in affected areas have been undertaken by the government and poultry growers.

The Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI) said it would take at least 75 days to implement all the measures prescribed in the government’s manual for managing bird-flu outbreaks before affected areas in Pampanga and Nueva Ecija can be considered bird flu-free.

“[The Philippines] is not yet bird flu-free. So far, there has been no report of new cases, which is a good sign. And we are hoping that we are already getting there [becoming bird flu-free],” Vytiaco told the BusinessMirror.

One of the protocols prescribed in the government’s manual is the collection of swabs from fowls in the 7-kilometer radius from ground zero. The samples should test negative for avian influenza (AI), according to Vytiaco.

“The 7-kilometer control area serves as buffer zone between the infected and the AI-free areas. We are not sure if the virus did not spread to the buffer zone,” she said.

“We can only be sure if the laboratory tests of the collected samples in the 7-km area is negative for AI. If all the samples tested negative for the virus, then we can say we have contained the AI within ground zero,” Vytiaco added.

She disclosed that the BAI has collected at least 800 swabs from the 7-km radius of the ground zero in San Luis, Pampanga, Samples from the 7-km radius of the ground zeroes in Jaen and San Isidro, Nueva Ecija, are still being gathered.

Aside from the laboratory tests, the sentinel birds that will be grown and observed for 35 days in depopulated farms should also test negative for bird flu. The government will conduct five laboratory tests on samples from sentinel birds.

The government, however, could only release sentinel birds once the poultry growers have completed the cleaning and disinfection process in their farms and have observed the prescribed rest period.

Vytiaco said the cleaning and disinfection process in all the AI-affected farms are still ongoing as of press time.

“It was agreed upon that once the cleaning and disinfection process has been completed, the owner will write a letter to the BAI, to be endorsed by either the municipal agricultural office or the provincial veterinary office,” she said.

“So far, since we had a meeting last week, no one has written to the BAI, yet,” Vytiaco added.

She said the cleaning and disinfection process could be completed in five days.

The guidelines of the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) include a 90-day waiting period after the last infected farm has been cleaned and disinfected before a country can be regarded as bird flu-free.

“If there’s no new reported cases within 90 days after the point of reference, which is after the disinfection, then the OIE will recognize the Philippines as bird flu-free,” she said.  “But at this point, we still do not have a point of reference because the cleaning and disinfection process is not yet finished.”

Image credits: Bloomberg

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