RP safe from swine influenza

April 28, 2009 11:45 pm 

By Ma. Theresa D. Ocampo & Lilybeth G. Ison

MANILA, April 28 — There is no swine influenza (SI) outbreak in the Philippines.

This was stressed by Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap in a press conference Tuesday, even as the government is maintaining a temporary suspension of pork imports from Mexico, the United States, and Canada previously reported by the World Health Organization (WHO) to have been detected with a "multi-strain virus."

"In the matter of the current swine influenza virus which the WHO has raised an international alert as a possible threat of pandemic proportion, allow me to state that the Animal Health Organization or OIE (Office International des Epizooties), in a statement released from Paris dated April 27, 2009, said that the virus circulating in Mexico and the USA and involving person to person transmission has no evidence that the virus is transmitted by food," he said.

In the same statement, Yap said, the OIE states that the virus includes characteristics of swine, avian and human virus components.

"It is also a fact that in the localities where this virus outbreak has been detected, no swine influenza outbreak has been detected nor registered," he said.

"It is critical to note that in the Philippines, we do not have a swine influenza outbreak today," he stressed.

Yap said pork meat in the country "is safe to eat and we have local suppliers from the Visayas and Mindanao to address the consumption needs of Luzon."

For his part, Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI) Diector Davinio Catbagan denied the alleged infection of swine flu in Pangasinan.

"It is a total false alarm. The apparent hog farmer who was the source of information has denied it," he said.

As a precautionary measure, Yap said he has ordered the BAI’s quarantine officials to be on heightened alert in all airports and seaports to ensure that hand-carried meat products are thoroughly screened to prevent the entry of the hog and meat products from the afflicted zones.

He also directed the National Meat Inspection Service (NMIS) to monitor meat establishments and slaughter houses as well as watch inter-province movements of live hogs and products to ensure proper safety certification of the same.

Yap said the SI virus that is raised to international alert by the WHO is a very sensitive topic and that facts should be stated as facts and should be acted accordingly.

"The novel virus is not yet affirmed to be sourced from animals and it is not justified to be called swine influenza as stated by the OIE. The novel virus appears to be a multi-strain virus, a combination of swine, avian and human virus," he explained.

"The mystery here is that the people who have been afflicted with this virus have no recent contacts with the sick hogs. The issue, initially declared as an animal health issue is turning out to be a human health issue," he said.

The OIE, in its latest statement, said that it would be better to call the disease a "North American influenza."

It is also calling for the conduct of "urgent scientific research" in order to know the susceptibility of animals to the new virus and if relevant, to implement biosecurity measures including possible vaccination to protect susceptible animals.

Yap urged the public to properly cook their food and be careful in buying their meat, as advised by the WHO and the Department of Health (DoH).

He said consumers should only buy NMIS-certified meat to ensure that the pork has passed quality standard. (PNA)

LGI/MDO

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