Bio-security and well-trained staff remain the most important weapons in the fight against the ever-present possibility of Avian influenza (bird flu) outbreaks.
This is the main lesson learned from the terrible outbreak of the disease in South Africa last year, which resulted in 4.5 million dead birds, N$954 million lost in revenue and 1,300 job losses. Dr Sean Wisdom of C4 Africa, an expert on Avian influenza, brought this message during his recent visit to Windhoek to attend the Poultry Producers Association (PPA)’s information day.
“It’s a single stranded RNA virus with eight different genes. These consist of low pathogenic (LP) and high pathogenic (HP) strains and only the HP ones kill birds,” Dr Wisdom explained.
It is an extremely complex disease with the virus using the chicken’s enzymes to activate and the HP can attack any organ of the animal, killing it quickly. Avian influenza (AI) viruses infect domestic poultry as well as pet, zoo, and wild birds.
“Bio-security and well-trained staff remain the most important mechanisms to avoid the disease. If you do not attend to this, you will lose your entire farming operation,” he warned.
Typical symptoms of the disease are bleeding on legs, haemorrhages on head, chickens producing lots of white eggs with very runny whites and the chickens discharging greenish diarrhoea, which looks similar to when they have Newcastle disease. Bleeding under the skin occurs as well as swollen liver and red dots in the stomachs with congested ovaries. Dr Wisdom said the real danger is that the virus just needs to make a small jump to be able to enter the human body. The virus can mutate to infect humans and it killed some 50 million people during the Spanish Flu after World War I.
Migratory birds travel all over the world – including to Namibia – and they can, therefore, at any time bring the virus with them. It is estimated that more than 117 million birds have been infected in the past four years globally and thus the risk of the virus is on the increase.
“It is, therefore, of the utmost importance that each and every Namibian poultry farmer makes sure of his bio-safety and security systems and have them in place. This includes control over the birds’ water supplies, clothing, equipment, vehicles and egg boxes. Staff must be fully informed about bio-security and symptoms of the disease,” Dr Wisdom stressed.
He said vaccination does not eliminate the virus problem but is recommended. Vaccines can prevent clinical signs and death. “The risk to human health, uncontrolled spreading of the virus and the effects on international trade will be there, but we can do much to keep the virus at bay and avoid catastrophic financial losses. It is also extremely important for producers to have good relations with their state veterinarians so that they can work together as a team to fight this deadly virus,” he said.