RITM responds to bird flu outbreak

RITM outbreak responder extracts blood sample from poultry farm worker

The Department of Agriculture (DA) confirmed the first bird flu outbreak that caused thousands of deaths among chickens, quails, and ducks in Pampanga on August 11, and in Nueva Ecija on August 18.

With the identification of the highly-pathogenic Avian Influenza Type A Subtype H5, the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM), Department of Health Epidemiology Bureau Regional Office III, Regional Epidemiology and Surveillance Unit (RESU) of Region III, and the Municipal Health Office of San Luis, Pampanga conducted preliminary outbreak investigation and ran necessary measures to control and prevent the transmission of the virus from animal to human.

RITM Surveillance Officer Rowena Capistrano led a team who examined, interviewed, and requested samples (i.e. blood extraction and swab collection) from the poultry farm workers who were exposed to the virus.

“We ensure that there is no transmission of the virus from the infected bird to human. We must prevent, detect, and respond as early as possible” stressed Capistrano.

At the same time, RITM prepared its Special Pathogens Laboratory, Molecular Biology Laboratory, and Virology Department for the response.
Its personnel were briefed and equipped to meticulously test all the samples collected.

There were 37 suspect cases of Human Avian Influenza whose samples were tested negative by Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) in RITM.

Strengthening preparedness and response

At the onset of the outbreak, DOH and local government units strictly performed physical and medical assessments of the 603 persons (poultry farm workers and military volunteers) involved with the bird culling activities.

“Before they were exposed to the infected birds, we made sure that they were in perfect shape and were given Influenza vaccine and oseltamivir (an antiviral capsule),” said Capistrano.

“All of them were under stringent observation prior, during, and post-culling activities.”

Apart from ensuring the safety of the frontliners during the outbreak, RITM conducted and assessed simulation exercises of consultation and admission of suspected Human Avian Influenza cases in the DOH referral hospitals located within the outbreak area of Pampanga and Nueva Ecija.

The RITM Team reviewed the following areas: hospital response, infection prevention and control, clinical management, laboratory specimen collection, biomedical engineering, biorisk assessment and management, of the Jose B. Lingad Memorial Regional Hospital (JBLMRH) in Pampanga and the Dr. Paulino J. Garcia Memorial Research and Medical Center (PJGMRMC) in Nueva Ecija.

Recommendations for JBLMRH and PJGMRMC aimed to further strengthen their capacity in addressing future outbreaks.

The collaboration among RITM, DOH offices and other agencies proved to be effective in managing the public’s concern.

More importantly, the established surveillance system and the employed preventive measures halted the possible transmission of the Avian Influenza virus to any of the persons who responded during the outbreak.

by Allenor Enciso, Communication and Engagement Office [RITM Web Team]