By Emma Kakololo WINDHOEK Namibian chicken producers have instituted contingency plans to prevent their birds from getting infected by the lethal H5N1 bird flu virus should it spread to the southern hemisphere. The virus that is also dead-ly to humans was found this month in poultry stocks in Nigeria – the first reported case of the disease on the continent. Although there are no signs of panic in Namibia as yet, chicken producers are worried to a point where some of them have reviewed their bio-security systems. The country has 10 commercial poultry farms. “It’s not a panic, but definitely a worry. We are very concerned. We don’t think we are immune,” said Eckhard Waldschmidt, manager of the country’s oldest poultry farm, Waldschmidt. The farm has been running since 1959. He said his birds are locked up in cages. He has put up ablution facilities with a shower so that every person visiting the farm takes a shower before interacting with the birds. Said Christo Ellis, manager of Bokomo Namibia, which has a chicken farm at Brakwater: “We have updated our bio-security systems on our farm such as strict regulation of movement at the farm; workers must change clothes from time to time and we are also spraying our places.” The farm has been operational since 1998. The company also owns the Nulaid egg brand. He noted that the possibility for the virus to spread to Namibia was remote because of the circumstances that differ from the rest of the African countries. “Unlike other countries, we don’t sell chicken on the streets. Here we are more regulated compared to other countries. We are not panicking, but definitely it’s a worry,” he stated. Tienie van Tonder of Priston farm in Okahandja, a baby in the poultry business, said they also updated their ablution facilities on their farm. She said her company is still very new in the market (six years), and is relying on veterinarians. “What can we do, but to continue with our normal duties? We are trying to keep our farm clean. It depends on the veterinarian, what information they can give to protect our birds from the virus. We are quite new in this business,” she stated. “Our country is too warm, so I am told,” she added, optimistic that it was uncommon for the flu to spread to Namibia. Of the few avian influenza viruses that have crossed the species barrier to infect humans, H5N1 has caused the largest number of detected cases of severe disease and death in humans. In the current outbreaks in Asia and Europe, more than half of those infected with the virus have died. Most cases have occurred in previously healthy children and young adults. So far, the spread of H5N1 virus from person to person has been limited and has not continued beyond one person. In the case of birds, the infection spreads swiftly and can cause disease that affects multiple internal organs and has a mortality rate that can reach 90-100 percent, often within 48 hours.
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