In this quiet town of Candaba, Pampanga, fears of contracting the deadly H5N1 strain of avian flu have been set aside by local officials and bird-watching aficionados alike. Candaba town mayor Jerry Pelayo assures migratory birds at the Candaba swamp, mostly egrets or locally known as tagak and brown wild ducks are harmless. The town is actually inviting the public to see for themselves the beauty of bird-watching.
But how come these migratory birds are safe when in fact they came from East Asia and Siberia where cases of bird flu have been reported? Tim Fisher, and Englishman based here in Manila and an avid bird-watcher in Candaba has a simple answer – the Philippines is too far from affected countries and if a bird has the flu, it may be too weak to fly for several days non-stop.
But then, not that I want to spoil the fun in Candaba, but what if a bird is just a carrier of the H5N1 strain and is asymptomatic, meaning it is healthy but has the virus in its system? Would it be possible for a bird to survive traveling for days from say, China to the Philippines, and then infect healthy ones as soon as they land in the country?
I was told by Health Department Spokesperson Dr. Luningning Villa that a person may be a carrier of a certain disease but he may not be symptomatic. Simply put, one may actually be healthy but deadly viri or bacteria may just be sleeping inside his body. This was the answer of Dr. Villa when I asked her on where the 3-year old boy in Quezon City suspected of succumbing to meningococcemia could have gotten the disease from. Apparently, the boy is the only probable case of meningo in the area and there is nobody else sick of meningo from whom he could have contracted the disease. But Dr. Villa says the boy may have possibly been infected by an asymptomatic carrier of the disease.
By the way, speaking of meningo here, if someone is suspected of being infected with meningococcemia, please do not ostracize that person or his family. I pity the family of that boy in Quezon City because they were forced to lock themselves up in their house for five days. Unlike bird flu, meningococcemia is not an airborne disease. Just be sure not to have direct contact with an infected person’s body fluids such as saliva or blood.
Back to bird flu, the good news is so far the Philippines remains unaffected. Thus it is safe to drive all the way to Candaba because local authorities say it is highly unlikely that the avian flu will find its way to their town. The birds which arrived late last year will leave around February to March.
And by the way, don’t forget to bring a telescope to have a clearer picture of the birds.