Bird flu strain H5N8 no threat to humans

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Pretoria - The current avian influenza virus strain -- H5N8 -- affecting South Africa is not a threat to humans.

This was confirmed by the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) on Thursday following advice from the World Health Organisation and the World Organisation for Animal Health.

“The DAFF wishes to reiterate that the type of virus we are dealing with does not affect people, as has been confirmed by the World Health Organisation and the World Organisation for Animal Health. 

“The meat that is on the shelves is safe to eat, as it has gone through a process of meat inspection and certified fit for human consumption,” Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Senzeni Zokwana said at a media briefing on Thursday.  

This was also confirmed by the Director of Animal Health at the DAFF, Mpho Maja, who said chicken meat on the shelves was safe to consume.

Maja said the meat from healthy poultry was safe to eat due to strict inspections at abattoirs. However, Maja warned people not to eat any birds found dead, dying or sick.

This follows a national ban on all chicken farmers selling live birds following the outbreak of highly pathogenic bird flu.

Two cases, one on a broiler breeder farm in Villiers and another in an egg laying farm in Standerton, have been reported since 22 June. Both these farms are in Mpumalanga province. Surveillance is being conducted around the affected areas.

“Our team of veterinarians has swiftly responded to this threat. We have placed the affected farms under quarantine and the affected birds have been euthanised and the eggs destroyed.  Approximately 260 000 birds have been culled,” Minister Zokwana said.

He confirmed that no cases have been reported so far in the Free State or in any other province but authorities remain on high alert.

Minister Zokwana said although Section 19 of the Animal Diseases Act gives the Director of Animal Health at the DAFF the legal mandate to compensate for any animals or birds killed by the State as a disease control measure, each case will be considered on its own merit.

Vaccination not an option

There have been calls for the department to permit vaccination against the disease.

Minister Zokwana said, however, that the advice he received from experts is that this will not be in the best interest of the country and poultry producers. 

“Vaccination of birds will create an endemic situation, affect surveillance efforts and affect our export certification because all our trade partners only want products from a country that is free of avian influenza where vaccination is not practised.”

Instead, in order to contain the disease, the department has put in place numerous conditions for the sale and trade of live chickens to curb the spread of avian influenza.

These include a ban on the sale of live chickens to manage the further spread of the disease, which has triggered nationwide concern since several livelihoods that depend of the sale of chickens have been affected.

“This measure was imposed in the interest of the country and the poultry producers at large, and I can assure you that it was not taken lightly,” Minister Zokwana said.

Measures to halt disease spread

The ban will last until government is satisfied that all processes and measures have been carried out.

Another measure is that 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:

  • 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 Director of Animal Health of the DAFF 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.

These conditions apply to sellers of live broiler chickens, live spent layer hens, live spent breeder birds, point of lay pullets and any chickens that may fall into these categories. 

The conditions also apply to any buyers and traders who buy more than five live chickens that fall into the above categories.

“All stakeholders are implored to comply with the registration and other requirements that are designed to allow the trade of live chickens to continue without compromising animal health,” Minister Zokwana said.

Registration forms for sellers and buyers are available on the DAFF ( and PDMA ( websites and further information can also be obtained from the PDMA on 012 529 8298.

Tightening biosecurity

Chicken keepers have also been advised to observe basic biosecurity measures in order to prevent contact with wild birds.

South African Poultry Association (Sapa) CEO Kevin Lovell said this can be achieved on commercial farms by improving biosecurity. On free range farms, feed and water must be removed from where it attracts wild birds.

It has been established that the H5N8 bird flu is the same strain found in parts of Europe.

“This means the ducks had migrated from Europe to the Western Cape, where they turn around and go back (sic),” Lovell said.

Lovell is certain that there are infected birds between the Vaal River and Zimbabwe, which was the first to report the virus in the region.

“We are sure it’s from wild ducks but we are just not sure which ducks,” he said, adding that bird faeces was already being sampled to determine this.

With regards to the number of trade partners that have suspended trade of raw meat, eggs and live birds from South Africa, Lovell said this could have a huge impact on small traders and small farmers, who would be negatively affected by the ban.

Maja confirmed that Zimbabwe, Namibia and Botswana have suspended poultry imports from South Africa with immediate effect. However, processed meat is considered safe for trade, and some countries still accept this. -