South Africa confirms avian flu outbreak, cases reported in commercial poultry farm

SOUTH AFRICA – South Africa’s multi-billion-dollar poultry industry is on high alert and implementing contingency plans after an announcement of an outbreak of avian flu on a farm in South Africa’s central province of Gauteng.

The Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development confirmed the outbreak announcing that about 300 birds died of avian flu at the commercial chicken-layer farm in Ekurhuleni.

Samples from the farm were taken for laboratory testing which turned positive for the H5 strain of AI.

Upon confirmation that it was H5, the birds in the affected house were immediately destroyed and the farm placed under quarantine while veterinary authorities investigate the extent of the outbreak.

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“The Gauteng Veterinary Authorities placed the farm under quarantine and are busy with an investigation of the outbreak.

“They are performing back and forward tracing, to determine the extent of the outbreak and assist with safe disposal of dead chickens and disinfection of the farm,” Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development said in a statement.

Further to that, arrangements have been made for samples to be urgently tested at Onderstepoort Veterinary Research (OVR), to determine the pathotype (whether it is high (HPAI) or low pathogenic avian influenza (LPAI)) as well as to determine the N type of the virus. The results have not yet come back.

The same farm had also been affected by the 2017 outbreak of the highly pathogenic H5N8 strain of avian flu, which saw poultry farmers culling millions of birds and prompted neighbouring countries including Zimbabwe, Namibia and Botswana to ban poultry imports from South Africa.

The H5N8 strain of avian influenza is highly pathogenic among fowl but poses little risk to human health.

“They are performing back and forward tracing, to determine the extent of the outbreak and assist with safe disposal of dead chickens and disinfection of the farm.”

Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development

Farmers to be on high alert

The department has warned poultry farmers to be on the lookout for signs of the disease and report any suspicions to the nearest state veterinarian for immediate investigation.

All poultry farmers, as well as those with birds kept for a hobby or zoo purposes, are encouraged to implement biosecurity measures to include keeping birds away from areas that are visited by wild birds; control access of people and equipment to poultry houses; avoid provision of water and food in a way that may attract wild birds and feed free-range birds undercover or inside a confined structure.

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Also, they have been urged to maintain proper disinfection of the property, poultry houses and equipment; avoid the introduction of birds of unknown disease status into your flock(s); report illnesses and deaths of birds to your responsible State or Private Veterinarian; and implement procedures for safe disposal of manure and dead birds.

Other than South Africa, Nigeria has also registered cases of the outbreak of the catastrophic bird flu reporting losses amounting to over US$13m in Kano State.

To avert the situation, USAID has partnered with Cargill, Ausvet, Heifer International, and the International Poultry Council (IPC) to launch a five-year US$33 million Transformational Strategies for Farm Output Risk Mitigation (TRANSFORM) initiative, aimed to improve livestock management and combat the threat of zoonotic diseases to both human and animal health in the region.

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