Fears that bird flu may cripple fragile poultry industry

Cape Town - The highly contagious bird flu (H5N8) may cripple the poultry market unless producers immediately intervene, warned Liana Steenkamp from the agricultural group Laeveld Agrochem.

The country’s biggest poultry producer, Astral, revealed that the H5N8 strain was discovered on one of its farms in Villiers. A second case has been confirmed in Standerton.

This is the first outbreak ever of the feared Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza in South African chickens. The H5N8 strain, which does not pose a direct threat to humans, has already led to the deaths of millions of birds worldwide. Wild water birds play the biggest role in the rapid spread of the virus.

Dr Charlotte Nkuna, a senior executive at the South African Poultry Association, said the outbreaks in Villiers and Standerton are under control but if the source is wild birds, outbreaks can appear elsewhere.

Steenkamp cautioned that the risk of the disease spreading countrywide is dangerously high, especially considering the presence of wild birds in the areas and the sale of live poultry.

Despite a government ban on the sale of live poultry, Steenkamp said there is still the risk that sales will continue, especially in the informal market.

She said Laeveld Agrochem is available to offer help to farmers.

SAPA said the H5N8 strain has been reported in various European countries since last year. It has spread this year to African countries such as Egypt, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Zimbabwe.

An appeal has been made to members of the public to report any incidents of large numbers of dead wild birds or backyard chickens.

According to Bomikazi Molapo, spokesperson for the Department of Agriculture, the virus can spread very quickly and can infect many different bird species.

“The virus appears naturally in many birds, and can spread through contact with infected birds and through the consumption of infected food or water."

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