News / South Africa

Yadhana Jadoo
2 minute read
25 Jul 2017
5:20 am

Experts puzzled by SA bird flu

Yadhana Jadoo

WHO says the current strain poses little threat to human health.


Research is still being conducted to establish just how wild birds have infected thousands of chickens in South Africa with a highly pathogenic H5N8 strain of bird flu.

According the SA Poultry Association (Sapa), four outbreaks on farms, three being in Mpumalanga and the other in Gauteng, are fairly close to each other with a 100km radius, but the infections were completely separate.

“We don’t know how it got to the chickens. So the back tracing in this regard is still ongoing,” Sapa’s Kevin Lovell said.

He explained that the strain could have also infected wild South African birds after it was initially carried by wild ducks from Europe – where there had been well over 1 000 outbreaks.

South Africa’s bird flu outbreak follows an epidemic in Zimbabwe at its leading poultry producer, Irvines.

Lovell explained that if the patterns were followed, it is found that the risk of more infections will stay higher in the summer, when chickens are more affected.

“What’s particular about this strain is that it starts as low pathogenic and then becomes highly pathogenic.”

Thus, birds would remain sick, but the virus would not kill them all.

Another reason why bird flu entered Africa was because of migrating wild ducks from Europe, where the viral overload was much higher than usual, he said.

“The ones that made it here didn’t die.

“These birds have been using this route for millions of years. Why we have it now is because of the level of infection in Europe.”

In Europe it was found that 80% of infections were spread by wild birds, and this is the reason for quarantines put in place on South African farms.

Speaking about providing safe food, Lovell assured that any meat infected with bird flu would be easy to see and would not make it onto the shelves in any case.

“We don’t live in a sterile world and we want to live in a safe world.

“Any bird flu infected meat is easy to see. The symptoms on the flesh will present themselves.

“You will see it in the colourisation. It will be discoloured. You will also see striations on the meat. So there are lines in the meat.”

According to the World Health Organisation, this strain of bird flu does not pose much of a threat to human health, unlike the H1N1 virus.