The first outbreak of the Highly Pathogenic Avain Influenza H5N8 has been confirmed in the Villiers area in the Free State. Avian influenza is a notifiable disease in terms of the Animal Disease Act, 35 of 1984.
The H5N8 strain of avian influenza, which is believed to be transmitted by wild migratory birds, has already wreaked havoc in the poultry industry in Zimbabwe where hundreds of thousands of commercial birds have already had to be culled.
Avian Influenza is a respiratory disease of birds caused by a virus which occurs in low pathogenic and high pathogenic varieties. Outbreaks of low pathogenic avian influenza (LPAI) are common around the world and are generally easily controlled, whereas the highly pathogenic versions of avian influenza (HPAI) are more serious due to the very high mortality rate in affected birds.
Avian influenza is primarily spread by direct contact between healthy and infected birds, or through indirect contact with contaminated equipment or other materials. The virus is present in the faeces of infected birds and in secretions from their noses, mouth and eyes. The virus can spread into domestic flocks kept outdoors through faecal contamination from wild birds, whereas infection among indoor flocks is spread via airborne secretions and faeces. The spreading of the virus through faeces and secretions is often referred to as the “shedding” of the virus.
There is currently no cure for HPAI H5N8. Current practice in most regions of the world requires the culling of infected birds, not treatment, hence prevention is extremely important.
The Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) recommends intensified surveillance and awareness raising by national authorities.
There is no benefit to be gained in attempting to control the virus in wild birds through culling or habitat destruction. Spraying of birds or the environment with disinfectant – for example sodium hypochlorite or bleach – is considered potentially counter-productive, harmful to the environment and not effective from a disease control perspective.
There is also no justification for any pre-emptive culling of endangered species in zoological collections. Control measures for captive wild birds in places where the virus is detected should be based on strict movement control, isolation and, only when necessary, limited culling of affected birds.
- It is important to report sick or dead birds – both wild birds and poultry – to local authorities (veterinary services, public health officials, community leaders etc.). These should be tested for avian influenza viruses.
- Wash hands properly and often. You should always do so after handling birds or other animals, when cooking or preparing animal products, and before eating.
- Eat only well-cooked meat products, and refrain from collecting, consuming or selling animals found sick or dead.
- Seek immediate advice from your physician if you show signs of fever after being in contact with poultry, farmed birds, wild birds or other animals.
Recommendations to poultry producers
- Farmers and poultry producers should step up their biosecurity measures in order to prevent potential virus introduction from wild birds or their faeces.
- It is important to keep poultry and other animals away from wild birds and their sub-products or droppings through screens, fencing or nets.
- Commercial poultry operations and backyard poultry owners should avoid the introduction of pathogens through contaminated clothes, footwear, vehicles or equipment used in waterfowl hunting.
Potential human infections
According to the World Health Organisation, Human infection with the H5N8 virus cannot be excluded, although the likelihood is low, based on the limited information obtained to date.
Photos by Stefan Strebl and Ariana Prestes on Unsplash | Press Release