Harare – The SADC region is on high alert following the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development in South Africa’s announcement this week of an outbreak of avian influenza.
The avian flu was detected at a farm in East Rand in Gauteng Province, where 300 birds died of the H5 strain of the virus. The farm has been placed under quarantine.
Botswana has already banned poultry imports from South Africa and there are indications that other countries in the region are in the process of implementing similar statutory restrictions.
Estimates were that South Africa would export poultry products amounting to 51,000 tonnes this year. According to the SA Poultry Association, the country also imports poultry products worth US$403 million annually.
“The Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development would like to report on an outbreak of avian influenza (AI) on a commercial farm in Ekurhuleni, Gauteng,” the department said in a statement.
“Approximately 300 birds died of AI on this commercial chicken-layer farm. The samples from this farm that were sent to the laboratory tested positive for the H5 strain of AI. It must be said that this farm was also part of the H5N8 highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) outbreak in 2017.
“Upon confirmation that it was H5, the birds in the affected house were immediately destroyed. Arrangements were made for samples to be urgently tested at Onderstepoort Veterinary Research.”
In response to the outbreak, Botswana’s Ministry of Agricultural Development and Food Security said: “The public is informed that an outbreak of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza has been reported in South Africa. As a result, the import of domesticated and wild birds, their products (meat, eggs and feathers), from South Africa is banned with immediate effect.”
This is the second time that the commercial layer chicken farm in Ekurhuleni has been hit by avian influenza, following an outbreak of the H5N8 strain in 2017. Millions of birds were culled and Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe all banned poultry imports from South Africa.
The World Health Organisation and the World Organisation of Animals say the virus poses little threat to human beings.
And the SA Poultry Association expects less losses from the current outbreak when compared to the one in 2017.
A February 2018 report by the Bureau for Food and Agricultural Policy said of the extent of the 2017 outbreak: “Total cull numbers from the reported AI outbreaks in the broiler and layer industries are estimated at around 5.4 million birds. The effect on the layer industry has however been much larger than in the broiler industry with around 4.7 million birds culled in the laying sector as opposed to around 700,000 birds in the broiler sector, which was predominantly affected at breeder level.”The virus was first detected in 1996 in geese in China, and Asian H5N1 was first detected in humans in 1997 in Hong Kong. It has since been reported in more than 50 countries.