Agriculture Department: PH bird flu strain transmissible to humans

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 24) - The bird flu that has hit parts of the Philippines has been confirmed to be H5N6 - a strain that can be transmitted to humans.

This was confirmed upon receipt of laboratory results from test samples that were sent to Australia.

Agriculture officials were quick to assure, however, that the strain is slow to spread and causes few deaths.

"The rate of transmission is very, very low," Arlene Vytiaco, who heads animal disease control in the Bureau of Animal Industry, said in a press briefing on Thursday.

She explained that countries like Japan and Myamnar have been affected by H5N6 but have reported no humans infected by the avian influenza.

"The mortality rate is also low," Vytiaco said. Since H5N6 started in 2014, there have only been 20 deaths reported worldwide.

The Department of Health has been conducting regular check-ups on farmers and workers in areas hit by the bird flu outbreak. Vytiaco said no new patients have been admitted since two farm workers reported flu-like symptoms last week but eventually tested negative for bird flu.

The government had been waiting to see what the bird flu's specific N strain was - particularly on the lookout for the N1 and N6 strains, which can be passed on to humans.

Local tests had confirmed it was not the far deadlier H5N1 virus. However, it had to send samples to Australia to check whether it was H5N6, since the government did not have its own test kits here.

This was said by Dr. Arlene Vytiaco, who oversees disease control for the Bureau of Animal Industry.

Reports of bird flu being present was first reported earlier this month. The virus was found in birds from seven farms in San Luis, Pampanga

The Department of Agriculture earlier said the virus had been present since April, but was only reported in August after 37,000 birds had died. It added the strain of avian flu present in these birds was not transmissible to humans.

On August 13, Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol said another round of tests was underway to determine whether H5N6 - the strain of the virus that can be passed on to humans - was present.

The DA imposed a ban on the shipment of poultry and poultry products from Luzon to other parts of the country on August 13 as a precautionary measure, but it was lifted on August 22.