Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Ramon J. P. Paje today appealed to the public to refrain from catching, handling, keeping and trading wild birds to avoid the risk of bird flu.

At the same time, he reminded traders that the import ban on wild birds, their by-products and derivatives from bird flu infected countries remains in effect.

Paje made the appeal in the wake of a recent report of the United Nations-Food and Agriculture Organization (UN-FAO) on the “possible major resurgence” of the Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (H5N1) with signs of a mutant strain of the H5N1 virus.

The report also indicated that the H5N1 virus is already making inroads to Asia and other parts of the world with unpredictable risks to human health and the poultry industry.

“We don’t want to be alarmist, but it is better to err on the side of caution and keep the country and our people safe from the virus,” Paje said, noting that the new mutant strain of the virus has been found in our neighbor countries China and Viet Nam.

Quoting medical reports, Paje said that the deadly bird flu can be easily transmitted through inhalation or direct contact with discharges or feces of infected birds. Thus, he advised the public to contend themselves with watching the birds from afar. “Enjoy the sight of birds flying freely up in the sky or frolicking in seashores; do not touch them.”

Likewise, Paje also warned communities in farms and coastal areas to keep away from any dead bird and to immediately report cases of unusual die offs of wild birds to the Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau (PAWB) at tel. nos. (02)-9258953, or to the nearest field offices of DENR, Department of Agriculture and Department of Health.

Paje also said that the ban on the importation of wild birds from bird flu-infected countries based on the list of the World Organization for Animal Health is still in effect. The import ban, which the DENR has imposed since January 2004, also covers wild bird by-products and derivatives.

Since its first detection in 2003, the bird flu virus has already infected a total of 63 countries worldwide. Recently, the affected countries include Bangladesh, Bulgaria, China, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Nepal, Mongolia, Romania and Viet Nam.