The Department of Agriculture, Land Reform, and Rural Development has confirmed an alarming outbreak of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI), commonly known as bird flu, in South Africa. With over 50 reported cases, this outbreak poses a significant threat to the country’s poultry industry and the livelihoods of many farmers.
The Scope of the Outbreak
The outbreak consists of fifty cases of the HPAI H7 strain and ten cases of the HPAI H5 strain. The HPAI H7 outbreak has hit Gauteng the hardest, with 37 reported cases. Mpumalanga, Limpopo, and Northwest have reported 2 cases each, while the Free State has recorded only 1 case. On the other hand, the HPAI H5 outbreaks are primarily concentrated in the Western Cape Province, with 7 reported outbreaks, and the remaining 3 outbreaks in KwaZulu-Natal Province.
Regrettably, the number of affected chickens is staggering. The reported number of deaths due to the H7 strain stands at 107,705, while the number of chickens culled is a staggering 1,318,521. The total loss of chickens resulting from the H7 strain amounts to a devastating 1,426,226. Similarly, the H5 strain has caused the death of 98,249 chickens, with 1,156,283 chickens culled, resulting in a total loss of 1,254,532 chickens.
The Importance of Biosecurity
As the number of newly detected H7 and H5 PCR-positive farms continues to rise, the Department emphasizes the critical need for enhanced biosecurity measures on poultry farms. Biosecurity is crucial in reducing the risk of virus introduction and spread within the industry. The Department urges all poultry producers to prioritize the implementation of robust biosecurity protocols to safeguard their flocks.
Importation of Fertile Eggs and Vaccination
To support the broiler industry, the Department has facilitated the importation of fertile eggs. Additionally, a request for the importation of table eggs is under consideration. The Department is also assisting in the transit of fertile eggs to Eswatini for their broiler production.
In terms of vaccination, the Department has held discussions with vaccine registration regulators. It has been agreed that the registration of vaccines will be fast-tracked, ensuring the safety, efficacy, and quality of the vaccines are not compromised.
However, given the high probability of the Avian Influenza virus mutating and becoming zoonotic, careful consideration must be given to the selection of vaccines for this exercise. The Department is in the final stages of developing the criteria under which vaccination will be permitted.
Only farms with excellent biosecurity measures and approval from the Department will be authorized to vaccinate their flocks. Furthermore, surveillance will be implemented to enable early detection of any incursion, and mandatory culling of vaccinated chickens will be enforced.
Ensuring Biosecurity and Reporting Suspicion
In light of this outbreak, all poultry producers are urged to intensify their biosecurity measures on their farms. Basic measures, such as preventing contact with wild birds and their fecal material, should be implemented rigorously. The risk of disease transmission through contaminated boots and equipment should be minimized.
Moreover, it is crucial for farmers to report any suspicion of the disease immediately to the nearest State Veterinarian. Early detection and prompt reporting are essential in managing and containing the outbreak effectively.
The Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza outbreak in South Africa has had a devastating impact on the poultry industry. The Department of Agriculture, Land Reform, and Rural Development are taking urgent steps to mitigate the spread of the virus and support affected farmers. However, it is imperative for all poultry producers to prioritize biosecurity measures and remain vigilant in reporting any signs of the disease. By working together, we can overcome this outbreak and safeguard the future of South Africa’s poultry industry.