The Western Cape Department of Agriculture has confirmed the presence of Highly Pathogenic Avian influenza (HPAI), type H5N8, in two ostrich farms in the Heidelberg area. Here’s what you need to know.
Avian influenza is a controlled disease in terms of the Animal Diseases Act, 35 of 1984.
Vets from the Western Cape Department of Agriculture detected HPAI during routine testing.
Last week, throat swabs tested positive for HPAI. Both farms were placed under quarantine immediately, and no birds are allowed to enter or leave the affected properties. There are around 1000 ostriches on both farms.
To ensure the accuracy of the first test, and because the ostriches are not showing any clinical signs of the illness, vets continued their testing campaign. There have been no reported bird deaths in the area.
At this stage, it appears that the incidence has been confined to the two properties. Farms within 3km of the affected farms will be placed under quarantine and testing in the surrounding areas will continue.
No decision to cull has been taken and discussions are ongoing.
It is suspected that wild birds are the source of the infection.
Thirteen outbreaks have occurred in South Africa since June this year, in Mpumalanga and Gauteng. The outbreaks involved seven commercial chicken farms, two groups of backyard chickens, three sets of wild birds and one group of domestic geese.
Avian influenza is a viral respiratory disease of birds believed to be transmitted by wild migratory birds. In Southern Africa, the H5N8 strain of the disease also affected the poultry industry in Zimbabwe, where thousands of commercial birds have died or had to be culled.
This strain of the virus has so far shown no sign of being infectious to people. Constant monitoring of exposed people in South Africa has supported this.
Ostrich and chicken meat on sale in retail outlets is safe for human consumption.
Avian Influenza is primarily spread by direct contact between healthy and infected birds, or through indirect contact with contaminated equipment or other materials. The virus is present in the faeces of infected birds and in discharges from their noses, mouth and eyes. The virus can spread into domestic flocks kept outdoors through faecal contamination from wild birds, whereas infection among indoor flocks is spread via airborne discharges and faeces.
There is currently no preventive vaccine or treatment for HPAI H5N8. Current practice in most regions of the world requires the culling of infected birds. There is no benefit to be gained in attempting to control the virus in wild birds through culling or habitat destruction.
- It is very important to report sick or dead birds - both wild birds and poultry - to local authorities (veterinary services, public health officials, community leaders etc.) Details of local state veterinarians can be found HERE.
- Farmers and poultry producers should step up their biosecurity measures in order to prevent potential virus introduction from wild birds or their faeces;
- It is important to keep poultry and other animals away from wild birds and their body fluids, through screens, fencing or nets;
- Commercial poultry operations and backyard poultry owners should avoid the introduction of the virus through contaminated clothes, footwear, vehicles or equipment used in waterfowl hunting.
Because of the HPAI H5N8 outbreaks, the buyers or sellers of more than five live chickens for any purpose other than direct slaughter at a registered abattoir will be subjected to the following conditions (quoting Media Briefing by Minister Senzeni Zokwana, Avian Influenza Outbreak In South Africa, 29 June 2017, Department Agriculture Forestry & Fisheries):
- The sellers of live chickens, including commercial farmers, as well as the traders who buy and resell these chickens must register with the Poultry Disease Management Agency (PDMA). The national Director Animal Health has authorised the PDMA to register and keep records of all parties selling and buying live chickens. The PDMA is an independent organisation and all information about the trade of live chickens will be kept strictly confidential.
- Only registered sellers and buyers are allowed to trade and it is the responsibility of both the seller and the buyer to ensure that their counterpart is registered.
- Farmers may only sell live chickens certified as healthy by a veterinarian or Animal Health Technician.
- Traders may only sell healthy chickens and must keep records as prescribed.
- Sellers and buyers registering with the PDMA would have to sign an undertaking to adhere to the required control measures.
For more information, kindly contact Petro van Rhyn, Head of Communication for the Western Cape Department of Agriculture, on 071 231 7576.