Alarming spread of deadly avian flu in South Africa

The highly pathogenic avian flu outbreak in South Africa is reaching over a greater distance than previously thought, says Dr Mike Modisane, Chief Director of animal production and health at the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.

Modisane told the Parliamentary portfolio committee for agriculture forestry and fisheries that even though the H5N8 virus only occurs in only two provinces in South Africa, it is worrying that the area reaches from Standerton to Centurion in Pretoria.

Currently the amount of outbreaks in South Africa amounts to ten, with five cases being reported on commercial farms.

The latest case was reported on the first of August on an Astral farm near Standerton, Mpumalanga. According to the JSE news service, SENS, this is the second outbreak on an Astral farm, with the loss of the first outbreak alone amounting to R25 million (US$ 1, 88 million).

According to Modisane genetic analysis showed that the virus strain isn’t only from one country only. The strain of the virus responsible for the first outbreak in Villers appears to be similar to the ones that was analysed after outbreaks in Egypt at the end of 2016 and the strain responsible for the outbreak of in Standerton are similar to the outbreaks in Zimbabwe in June.

Warm weather

Although strict measures are placed in order to prevent the spread of the disease, the hope is that the coming warmer summer weather would prevent spreading. The virus – that is not susceptible to mammals, is not heat resistant. According to Modisane the temperatures in Uganda was so warm that the disease died by itself. Egypt has indicated that it was a mistake to vaccinate their poultry after outbreaks.

Worrying impact

Several Southern African countries have imposed bans on South African poultry since the first outbreaks including Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe. These bans included live birds, poultry meat, table eggs and other unprocessed poultry products.

Some of the countries however experienced shortages of poultry products since the ban and have since imposed less strict bans.
According to a report from the USA’s Department of Agriculture foreign desk, even though these countries account for 70% of the South African poultry meat exports in 2016, the country is not a major exporter of poultry.

The report however warns the inability to contain the virus outbreaks could have a significant impact on the South African poultry industry which is currently recovering from the drought and recent changes in brining regulations.

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