Outbreak of bird flu in SA: No need to panic, says local poultry expert

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Staff Reporter

Windhoek-Namibia is a relatively low-risk country in terms of the outbreak of bird flu, says chief executive officer of Namib Poultry and Namib Mills, Ian Collard.

He says there is no immediate danger of the virus spreading to Namibia as all exports from South Africa were stopped after the outbreak.

“We are also in the fortunate position that our local poultry industry supplies some 75 percent of the requirements and we import the rest from Europe and Brazil. There is no need for panic but we have put up our guard and poultry farmers should visit the website of AVIMUNE for a list of bio-safety measures and those availed by the NPI in support of Namibian poultry producers. It is the same virus that caused an outbreak in Harare, Zimbabwe a few weeks ago,” Collard reassures.

“This is an extremely serious disease that can cause up to 100% mortality rate among chickens in an infected house within three days. Although some strains of the virus can make other animals and humans sick, this particular strain is not known to be such a threat.”

The Namibian poultry industry went into high alert mode before the weekend after the outbreak of bird flu on two farms in South Africa saw more than 30,000 birds being culled and all exports of poultry and poultry meat from SA halted as the country tries to contain its first outbreak of avian influenza.

The first case of H5N8 was found on a farm near Villiers, which is located on the border between the Free State and Mpumalanga. More than 30,000 birds had to be culled on the farm, which sits near a river, meaning the virus was likely to spread to other farms. Those fears were realised on Tuesday when a second case of the disease was detected on a farm in Standerton around 65 km from the first.

These fears also quickly spread to the Namibian poultry industry.
The disease is spread to chickens by wild water birds (through their droppings). Contamination takes place when droppings are stepped in and carried into chicken houses, or if chickens get into contact with contagious water (open water sources such as drinking water and cooling ponds). Contaminated manure, equipment, vehicles, animals and culls also spread the disease rapidly.

Signs of the disease is a sudden increase in chicken mortalities and a large number of birds showing respiratory signs and depression. Prevention can only be done through stringent bio-safety measures. No vaccinnes and no treatment is possible.

South Africa banned exports from Zimbabwe when H5N8 was found two months ago and the nationwide ban on the movement and sale of live hens and roosters is still in place to enable the SA authorities to assess the extent of the outbreak. Following the first case, an executive at the South African Poultry Association (SAPA) said all poultry exports from South Africa had ceased immediately. All birds produced and exported 21 days prior to the date of discovery had to be returned to the country, and would most likely be destroyed.

Poultry producers were advised to report any higher than average mortalities in their broods, as well as any higher than average water bird mortalities. This strain of H5N8 started off in Europe primarily through wild birds and has been affecting poultry sectors for over a year. Around two months ago the strain was detected and isolated in neighbouring Zimbabwe.

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