By: Elmer M. Palomata, MD - Assistant Vice President
Bird flu, also called avian influenza, is a viral infection that can infect not only birds, but also humans.
Water fowl – most notably wild ducks – are the natural carriers of bird flu viruses. It is suspected that infection can spread easily from wild fowl to domestic poultry.
Most forms of the virus are restricted to birds, but the strain reported to have affected those from several farms in Pampanga in early August is H5N6, a strain that can be transmitted to humans. This can be so through contact with infected bird or poultry feces, nasal secretions, or secretions from the mouth or eyes.
The Department of Agriculture assured that the transmission rate is very low and that it does not spread easily from person to person.
However, you may have a greater risk of contracting the virus if you are:
• a poultry farmer
• a traveler visiting affected areas
• exposed to infected birds
• someone who eats undercooked poultry or eggs
• a healthcare worker caring for infected patients
• a household member of an infected person
Touching contaminated surfaces can also spread the infection. Call your doctor if you have flu symptoms within 10 days of handling birds or traveling to areas with a known avian flu outbreak. These symptoms may include:
• respiratory difficulties
• fever (38°C)
• muscle aches
• runny nose
• sore throat
• sore eyes
If you are exposed and if you show any of the foregoing symptoms, you must be brought to a medical facility or to the nearest DOH referral hospital immediately. Your family or others in close contact with you might be prescribed antivirals as a preventive measure, even if they aren’t sick. You will be placed in isolation to avoid spreading the virus to others. You will also be advised to wear a face mask that covers the nose and mouth.
The practice of good hygiene cannot be over-emphasized. Always wash hands properly, take a bath, and change clothes particularly after managing sick patients or handling dead birds/poultry animals.
References: DOH, CNN Philippines, Healthline, WebMD