WC: Battle against avian flu not over

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

The Western Cape Economic Opportunities Department says while there are no new cases of avian flu confirmed since 31 October 2017, another strain of the virus, the H5N8, has cropped up.

“No new cases of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) have been confirmed at previously uninfected poultry farms in the province since 31 October 2017. In December, there was a reoccurrence at a previously infected farm, which was still under quarantine,” said the Western Cape’s Economic Opportunities MEC, Alan Winde. 

Despite progress in the fight against avian flu, the province’s Economic Opportunities Department said laboratory tests have, however, confirmed the presence of the H5N8 virus in swift terns found in Durbanville, Seapoint, between Bloubergstrand and Melkbosstrand, Kenilworth and Stony Point. 

“The sick terns show signs of weakness and cloudy eyes and later develop head tremors, lack of balance, walking in circles, seizures and death. 

“Our veterinary services team have notified Cape Nature, BirdLife and local seabird rehabilitation centres of this latest outbreak of HPAI amongst wild birds for further dissemination to relevant stakeholders,” said Winde. 

Other wild birds found to be infected in 2017 included guinea fowl, laughing doves, rock pigeon, pied crows, sacred ibis, blue crane, Egyptian goose, spotted eagle owl, peregrine falcons and a house sparrow. 

“Members of the public are urged to inform their local state vet office (map at http://www.elsenburg.com/services-and-programmes/veterinary-services-0#s=Animal-Health-and-Disease-Control ) or Cape Nature office if they discover groups of dead birds or sick birds. Members of the public should avoid handling sick birds, especially if they will be coming into contact with other birds or bird owners.”

Not infectious to people 

Unfortunately, there is currently no preventive vaccine or treatment for HPAI H5N8. 

Veterinary Services has advised that there is no benefit to be gained in attempting to control the virus in wild birds through culling or habitat destruction. 

“However, the H5N8 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. However, people can spread the disease via their hands, clothes and vehicles,” said the department.

Winde urged poultry owners to remain vigilant and to maintain strict biosecurity measures. 

“The halting of new infections in our poultry industry is positive news but we must remain extremely cautious due to infections amongst our wild bird population. Restocking of poultry farms continues in Gauteng, and our vets are working with local farmers to make sure their houses are clean so they can start the restocking process.” 

Poultry farms can be declared officially free of HPAI 42 days after the first effective disinfection. Once the property is declared HPAI free, the quarantine can be lifted. To date, quarantine has been lifted on one commercial broiler breeder farm. 

HPAI was first detected in the Western Cape in August last year. The total number of cases for the country now stands at 107, with 75 in the Western Cape. 

Avian flu affects food prices 

According the Economic Opportunities Department, since culling began, food prices related to poultry, a key source of nutrition for residents, have been impacted. 

Louw Pienaar, an economist at the Department of Agriculture, reported that the price of eggs in South Africa has risen by 16.9% when comparing November 2016 to November 2017. 

“The biggest price shock has been in the Western Cape, where the price of 1.5 dozen eggs increased from R38.42 to R42.66 between September and October of last year.” 

A more detailed report from the Bureau for Food and Agricultural Policy (BFAP) on the economic impact of the outbreak is expected at the end of January 2018. – SAnews.gov.za