A big change is looming for the Philippines but not from the expected total economic collapse or from all the infightings from the different political factions. The big threat is naturally occurring, and it will not discriminate nor spare anyone once it arrives. It is the H5N1 virus, the deadly strain of avian flu virus that has already infected and had prompted the slaughter of millions of birds, mainly from the poultry industry, all over the world. The Philippines is on the path of several migratory patterns for birds traveling back and forth from Australia and Asia and even for a few species crossing the Pacific Ocean. So far, the Philippines has been spared from the recent outbreak that occurred in the mainland China a few years ago. But it only takes one infected bird to cause an outbreak, and the current conditions in the Philippines and its culture are a perfect combination for such occurrence.
An avian flu outbreak in the Philippines would be catastrophic with far-reaching effects. The scenario for the initial infection is set. And the Philippines’ lack of contingency plan to deal with - contain - an outbreak will prove to be disastrous.
Doves and pigeons are kept as pets in the Philippines. They are housed in home-made birdhouses and cages kept in back and side alleys and on rooftops all over many densely populated areas. The scenario of one or even multiple infected wild birds (from a migrating flock) infecting many doves and pigeons all over the city is a strong possibility. The initial infection alone has a wide range. And just like the doves and pigeons, the chickens are also kept in cages within the same proximity of each other in those same back and side alleys. It would not take very long for the infected doves and pigeons to infect those chickens including roosters that are bred for cockfighting, sabong. This is where a bad-turn-to-worse situation will quickly turn to worst as it starts involving humans.
Filipino men love cockfighting. It is the national pastime that can occur at any place and any time. With just two roosters in hand, a cockfight with betting can take place in someone’s yard. It is that easy and that common. Making a couple of common domestic fowls fight to the death is an integral part of the Filipino male culture. Filipino men love their roosters. So if an avian flu virus outbreak occurs, many Filipino men will try to save his treasured cockfighters by any means possible. The most effective way to contain and stop the outbreak is to slaughter all suspected birds including chickens, hens and roosters. This particular method of stopping the spread of the avian flu virus is not an option when it comes to the prized cockfighters. They will hide and protect them in their well guarded haciendas. As a result, those prized cockfighters will be the new source of the virus and will continue its propagation. And the longer a virus stays in a host, the longer it will remain infectious and possibly increased the possibility that it will mutate. The virus will not be contained and most likely spread to many other bird species throughout the Philippines.
If a non-human infecting virus will mutate and adapt itself to a human infectious form, it is the H5N1, and it will occur in the Philippines. The densely populated, squalid slums all over the Philippines are the perfect place for a non-human virus to inject its DNA - its gene to the human genome and create a human strain. As the virus spreads through the bird populations, including chicken, it will make those birds sick before the virus kills them. Those dying chickens will be available to those people living in those slums. And because they are poor, hungry, and desperate, they will take a chance and eat those avian flu-infected chickens. Sayang din naman - wasted chance or opportunity. It would be such a waste not to eat (or throw away) a ‘perfectly’ good chicken especially for someone who is starving and has been living off from food scraps and garbage that he digs up from the dump. And as he eats the diseased chicken, the avian flu genome is introduced in the human genome. Nature then will take its course and insert the viral gene in the human genome. The infected human will then make infectious viral particles. And just like any other subtype of the influenza virus, its mode of infection is through air, the air that the infected person breathes out. It will be airborne. Unlike the HIV-AIDS, a human adapted avian flu will be more infectious and just as potent because it will not require direct contact or exchange of bodily fluids. Infection will occur just for breathing the same air that the infected person breathes out. And since the slums are heavily populated and the people living there are not in the best health condition, the infection will spread rapidly just like the way it spread in the bird population. The overpopulated slums teeming in cesspools of unimaginable waste and human excrement have now become the major source of infection for the rest of the population. The viral infection will soon reach pandemic proportions since there is no effective treatment or vaccine for the flu, human or bird type.
Just in Metro Manila alone, there are several slums that stretch from Caloocan all the way to Muntilupa. As the viral infection progress from the slums, it will spread throughout the whole city. It will not discriminate. It would not matter whether the person lives in Wack Wack or Balic Balic. It will move though the population infecting anybody and everybody – artistas, politicians, rich, poor. Social or political status will not matter. It will not spare anyone. In a way, people living in the forgotten and neglected slums will get their revenge on the people that enslaved them there.
It is certain that the very wealthy and the very corrupt politicians will try to escape the epidemic because they have the means. They will try to escape to Australia, Canada, and the United States but they will be denied entry. The Philippines is a group of islands that can be easily isolated. And that is what the rest of the world will do. Flights will not even be allowed to leave the country once there is an outbreak just like when SARS started in mainland China. The Filipinos will be left to deal on their own. And since they have not made any preparations as evident of their lack of plans today for dealing with malaria, dengue, and the flooding from the annual typhoons, hundreds of thousands, if not millions will die. Heavily populated areas such as the major cities will sustain most of the casualties. It would appear that such devastation will be bad for the Philippines. But such drastic change is what might save the Philippines if such epidemic will claim all the corrupt politicians.
There is still hope for the Philippines. Pray for that sick little bird to fall from the sky.