SOUTH AFRICA – The Western Cape Veterinary Services has issued a warning to poultry farmers in the Paardeberg region, notably in the Drakenstein and Swartland Local Municipalities after confirming the discovery of avian influenza in two commercial layer farms that has so far claimed the lives of 120 000 birds.

The first outbreak was confirmed on Friday, 21 April, and the second on Tuesday, 25 April. Investigations are being conducted to determine the precise strain implicated.

Worldwide outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) have been reported including in some South African provinces earlier in 2023 and throughout 2022. However, since early last year, the virus hasn’t been detected in commercial poultry in the Western Cape.

Last month, the Gambian Ministry of Environment, Agriculture, Health and National Disaster Management Agency confirmed an outbreak of Avian influenza (H5N1) in the country after several birds were found dead in Kartong and other coastal areas.

Avian influenza is a viral disease transmitted either directly between healthy and diseased birds or indirectly through contact with contaminated objects or other materials.

The virus leaks from the nose, mouth, and eyes of infected birds and is found in their excretions. Indirect contact with infectious poultry on other properties or faecal pollution of the environment from wild birds are other ways that domestic birds can get sick.

HPAI is currently not preventable or treatable. Therefore, existing practices in most parts of the world call for killing diseased birds as soon as possible in order to stop the disease from spreading.

Hope is however imminent after the Wageningen Bioveterinary Research carried out preliminary experiments using two vaccines developed by German company Boehringer Ingelheim and the French company Ceva Animal Health, which demonstrated efficacy against HPAI.

Despite the continued minimal risk of avian influenza transmission to people, scientists advise the general public to refrain from handling deceased birds. Additionally, gloves, a mask, and eye protection should be worn when handling or slaughtering potentially infected poultry.

Farmers and poultry producers should be vigilant in their biosecurity measures to prevent potential virus introduction from wild birds or their faeces by restricting access to properties, keeping poultry away from wild birds and their body fluids, and avoiding the introduction of the virus through contaminated clothes, footwear, vehicles or farm equipment.

The producers are also advised to disinfect vehicles entering properties upon entering and exiting and not to allow people who have had contact with poultry in the last 48 hours into their premises.

Furthermore, they should use footbaths upon entry and exit to poultry houses to disinfect footwear.

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