South Africa is dealing with a number of highly pathogenic avian influenza, or bird flu, (HPAI) H5 and H7 outbreaks, with more than 50 cases confirmed in various parts of the country, according to the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD).
The department has urged poultry farmers to immediately report any suspicion of the disease to the nearest State Veterinarian.
As of 21 September 2023, a total of 50 HPAI H7 outbreaks and 10 HPAI H5 outbreaks have been reported.
Gauteng province is the hardest hit by HPAI H7, with 37 confirmed cases.
Mpumalanga, Limpopo and North West have confirmed two cases, respectively, while the Free State has recorded one case.
“The reported number of chickens that have died is 107 705, while the reported number of chickens that were culled is 1 318 521. Based on these reported figures, there has been a total loss of 1 426 226 chickens.
“The Western Cape province is the hardest hit with regards to the HPAI H5 outbreak, having a total of seven reported outbreaks. The other 3 HPAI H5 outbreaks are within the KwaZulu-Natal province,” the department said in a statement.
The reported number of chickens that have died of HPAI H5 is 98 249, while the reported number of chickens that were culled is 1 156 283, bringing the total loss of 1 254 532 chickens.
The department said it has noted an increasing number of newly detected H7 and H5 PCR positive farms, and urged the industry to ensure biosecurity on poultry farms to reduce the risk of introduction.
The department has facilitated the importation of fertile eggs for the broiler industry and, it said “a similar request for the table eggs will be considered if received”.
It is also facilitating the transit to Eswatini of fertile eggs for their broiler production.
The department has met with vaccine registration regulators and it was agreed that the registration of vaccination will be fast tracked. However, the meeting agreed that safety, efficacy and quality will not be compromised.
Due to the high probability of the avian influenza virus mutating and becoming zoonotic, the department warned that care needs to be taken on the quality and efficacy parameters of the vaccine chosen for use in this exercise.
“The criteria under which vaccination will be permitted is almost in its final development, and only farms with good biosecurity and approved to vaccinate by the department will be given permission to vaccinate. The other requirements for vaccination will be surveillance to enable early detection of incursion and mandatory slaughter of vaccinated chickens.
“The department further encourages all producers to intensify their biosecurity measures on the farm. The basic measures should aim at preventing contact with wild birds, including their faecal material, which can be transported in boots and equipment,” the department said.