Press Release
March 1, 2006

*Palace told : Brace for flu, not coup*

Saying that the real threat to the country comes from a flu, not from a coup, Sen. Ralph Recto today urged the government to ready its bird flu response measures as the regions death toll from the deadly avian virus mounts

The real national emergency may come from air, and it would be harder to stop than the Marines, Recto said. It will be easier to recapture jailbirds like San Juan, but how can you ask thousands of birds to surrender? he said.

Recto said it is either by the grace of God or good governance that the Philippines remains one of the last places in Southeast Asia where bird flu has not landed.

All except for five of the 92 worldwide human fatalities of bird flu so far had come from countries near the Philippines, Recto noted.

Vietnam tops the list with 42 deaths, followed by Indonesia with 19, Thailand, 14, China, 8, and Cambodia, 4, Recto said, citing a World Health Organization tally on confirmed human cases of avian influenza.

Recto said Malaysia reported on February 20 a fresh outbreak in poultry after having been considered free of the disease for more than a year.

Some of these countries are, in some points, less than a 100 kilometers away from us as the crow flies, he said.

Recto said the government should not treat the seas surrounding the Philippines as a quarantine moat that will stop the entry of the virus.

Migratory birds have used many of our islands as their traditional stopover points. In fact, some of our islets, like the one in Cebu, look like the avian version of a busy international airport, Recto said.

He said scientists have blamed the geographical spread of the virus to wild and domestic birds.

According to WHO, 13 new countries have reported their first cases of H5N1 (bird flus scientific name) infection in birds since the beginning of February. These are Iraq, Nigeria, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Greece, Italy, Slovenia, Iran, Austria, Germany, Egypt, India and France.

Bird flu has a devastating effect on the poultry industry because in addition to the birds it kills outright, many more must be slaughtered preventively in the surrounding area.

The local poultry industry alone, Recto said, is expected to suffer at least P100 billion in losses if bird flu will shut down farms and lead to the mass culling of birds.

To its credit, the Philippines has a good bird flu plan in the 91-page document principally drafted by the Department of Health, Recto said.

The only thing lacking, I was told, were the funds needed to implement it. For example, we must improve our sentinel system for early detection so we can prevent its spread, he said.

Now that the President is on a spending mood, may be she can include bird flu activities in her list of beneficiaries, he said.

Recto said the DOH and the Department of Agriculture have printed good brochures on the virus which should be distributed.

The idea to disseminate the right information to avoid panic in the event of an emergency, so that when bird flu strikes , the community , including hospitals , already know the drill. To be forewarned is to be forearmed, he said

The Philippine bird flu plan includes the stamping out of all fowls within 3 kilometers from impact in the event of a Stage 2 scenario of an avian flu in domestic fowl.

The highest danger level in the plan, Stage 4, refers to the simultaneous outbreak of bird in both humans and poultry and would trigger a combination of quarantine, vaccination, fowl extermination, clinical management, hospital infection and public information activities, including psychological help to victims and aspects of police control, Recto said.

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