SOUTH AFRICA – In response to the alarming spread of bird flu strains facing South Africa’s poultry sector, the South African government has announced a push to deploy vaccines to curb the situation.
The move comes as fears mount over potential shortages of chicken and eggs, with various regions grappling with the relentless impact of avian influenza.
The Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DLARRD) revealed its plan to expedite the use of vaccines in a statement following discussions with vaccine registration regulators, culminating in an agreement to fast-track vaccine registration processes.
Additionally, the department announced that it has also facilitated the importation of fertile eggs for the broiler industry, and they have expressed readiness to consider similar requests for table eggs if submitted.
The urgency to combat the bird flu crisis is underscored by the evolving nature of the H5N1 avian influenza virus.
The Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal regions of South Africa have been significantly impacted by the H5 variant, resulting in the culling or death of nearly 1.3 million birds.
The South African Poultry Association (SAPA) has reported H7 outbreaks in other provinces like Limpopo, Northwest, Free State, and Mpumalanga, leading to the loss of over 1.4 million birds due to this virulent strain.
As of September 21, South Africa is grappling with a total of 50 H7 outbreaks and 10 H5 avian influenza outbreaks, with 37 of the H7 cases concentrated in Gauteng.
Astral Foods, the nation’s largest poultry producer, also issued warnings of impending shortages in table eggs and poultry meat in the coming months.
Richard Webby, head of a WHO collaborating centre for influenza in animals, emphasized the virus’s dynamic nature and the concerning expansion of its presence in various mammals, including sea lions, penguins, dolphins, and otters.
However, the South African government remains committed to ensuring the safety and quality of the vaccines it uses, given the risk of the virus becoming zoonotic and transmitted from animals to humans.
The South African Department of Agriculture emphasized the importance of stringent criteria for vaccination, which is nearing its finalization.
“Only farms with robust biosecurity measures and department approval will be authorized to vaccinate.”
It noted that mandatory surveillance and slaughter of vaccinated chickens will be enforced to enable early detection of incursions.
The department has urged all producers to enhance biosecurity measures to prevent contact with wild birds and potential transmission of the virus through contaminated equipment.