Yadhana Jadoo
3 minute read
13 Jun 2017
5:15 am

Ducks carrying bird flu cause a flap in SA

Yadhana Jadoo

SA authorities are working to heighten public and commercial awareness of the outbreak.

FILE PICTURE: Chicken. Picture: Michel Bega

If wild ducks are carrying the H5N8 strain of bird flu, they could have already crossed South Africa’s border with Zimbabwe, where a pathogenic avian influenza outbreak has led to thousands of chickens being culled.

In the face of that risk, SA authorities are working to heighten public and commercial awareness of the outbreak.

According to South African Poultry Association CEO Kevin Lovell, further investigations are underway to confirm if H5N8 is originating from wild ducks.

“This helps to determine how to manage this. We are upping our game,” he said.

“If it’s from wild ducks, they could have made their way to South Africa, but that is not guaranteed.”

A pamphlet will also go out  to organisations in border provinces, making them aware of the situation.

Lovell said authorities were not concerned about the smuggling of chickens that would be eaten in a day or two.

“We are not fussed about smuggling across the border. What we are more worried about it being spread by wild ducks.

“Because if it’s spread by wild birds, it will fly and do its thing – and we can’t follow it.”

Nevertheless, border control was part of the plan of a task team dealing with the outbreak run by the department of agriculture, forestry and fisheries, he added.

The South African national contingency plan was also being amended to include research based on the last outbreak, among ostriches in 2011, when farmers had to slaughter thousands of livestock, he said.

The amendment also examines the handling of bird flu outbreaks in other parts of the world. “This work was already done last year.

“We started upgrading it, when there was no threat.”

Lovell urged the public to keep a look out for dead chickens or birds and report any sightings to local agriculture departments.

“We are also collecting samples from Zimbabwe and our team will do further analysis. “

So we will see what the risks are for it to become a human pathogen.”

Meanwhile, South Africa has suspended all trade in birds and table egg products from Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe’s leading egg and poultry producer, Irvine’s, is the supplier most affected by the outbreak, with 7 000 of its birds killed by the virus and a further 140 000 euthanised as a preventive measure.

Irvine’s said it had since contained the outbreak on an isolated site it owns outside the capital city, Harare, and advised all poultry producers to be extra vigilant, avoid contact with wild birds and keep poultry indoors.

According to the department, the Limpopo veterinary authorities were also on high alert and had increased surveillance, especially of backyard chickens.

“South Africa has prohibited vaccination of chickens against notifiable avian influenza and no vaccine against this disease is registered in the country. “

No farmer should allow their chickens to be vaccinated,” it warned.

According to the World Health Organisation, humans can be infected with the H5N8 virus, but the likelihood of that is low.

To date, no human cases of infection with H5N8 have been detected.