Avian flu has been confirmed on a commercial layer poultry farm in the Paardeberg region in the Western Cape, the province’s agriculture department announced earlier on Sunday. This follows outbreaks at three ostrich farms in Heidelberg.
More than 10,000 chickens have already died on the Paardeberg farm, which the provincial governement did not name. The farm has been placed under quarantine, and the rest of its birds are being culled.
It represents yet another blow to the agriculture sector in the Western Cape, which has been hard hit by drought.
“This is a priority for the poultry industry, and the entire agriculture sector. The outbreak and the current drought have made agriculture a tough space to be in,” said Western Cape Minister of Economic Opportunity Alan Winde. “This is a particularly difficult time for those affected farms, which are important employers. This is why we ask all stakeholders to continue working with us to mitigate the impact of this outbreak on our economy,” he said in a statement.
Avian flu outbreaks have previously been reported on poultry farms in Mpumalanga and Gauteng, with devastating financial consequences. Last week Astral Foods, one of the largest poultry producers in Southern Africa, said outbreaks at two of its farms had cost it more than R50m.
Neighbouring countries, including Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe, suspended poultry imports from SA after the first avian flu oubtreaks. Zimbabwe has also been badly affected by avian flu, and has had to cull thousands of commercial birds.
Winde said the outbreak on the Paardeberg region farm had yet to be confirmed as H5N8, the highly contagious strain identified in outbreaks in other parts of the country, but the effects observed on the chickens suggest it is the same.
Strict control measures laid down by the national department of agriculture, fisheries and forestry were in place to combat the spread of the disease, the province said. These include close monitoring of farms within a 3km radius of an infected farm, limiting the movement of pet birds, racing pigeons, breeding birds and show birds that come from within 30km of an infected farm, and mandatory reporting of sick or dead birds to local state veterinarians.
While H5N8 is highly pathogenic amongst chickens, authorities do not consider the poultry products currently available in stores to pose a health risk to people.
Avian flu is primarily spread by direct contact between healthy and infected birds, but it can also be spread by contaminated equipment. The virus is present in infected birds’ droppings and in their airborne secretions: it spreads to domestic flocks kept outside through faecal contamination from wild birds, while infection among indoor flocks spreads via discharge from the birds eyes, nose and mouth and their droppings.