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The initial outbreak of avian influenza H5 on a layer farm on the East Rand of Johannesburg has now been identified as highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) H5N1. This is not the same strain that was experienced in June 2017. However, any outbreak of HPAI is treated as extremely serious and virulent.

The poultry industry remains in a state of high alert. Quarantine protocols remain in place on the farm concerned. The farmworkers are issued personal protective equipment daily and the farm is being sterilised before accepting new layers.

The company concerned made the responsible decision to cull all 240 000 hens to protect surrounding farms and the South African poultry industry in general. The replacement cost of these hens is R20 million. All biosecurity measures remain in place.

Most unfortunately, a second outbreak of HPAI H5 has been reported on a North West broiler breeder farm. This farm has culled 7 000 broiler breeder birds. The mortalities have been sent to Onderstepoort Veterinary Research Institute for analysis and sequencing.

HPAI is a notifiable disease that must be reported to the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), which dispatches daily updates on notifiable diseases to all countries in the world. Countries have the right to cease trade imports from any country that has been identified by the OIE as having an outbreak of a notifiable disease.

At present, Namibia has banned poultry product imports from SA’s Compartment ZA 18/500 (the defined area of the first outbreak). Botswana and Mozambique have banned all poultry meat, eggs and feathers from South Africa.

Lesotho has banned eggs from Gauteng. Dr Mpho Maja, director of animal health at the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD), is continuing discussions with all neighbouring countries to minimise the impact on South African exports.

Farmers and all keepers of poultry are urgently requested to familiarise themselves with and implement the highest levels of biosecurity protocols to protect not only their flocks, but South Africa’s poultry industry as a whole.

This strain of avian influenza is carried by wild birds, especially at this time of year during their natural migration northwards. All persons are requested to be on the lookout for dead birds and report these to their nearest state veterinarian.

Dr Maja is working closely with the industry on the outbreak of HPAI and will make a decision regarding movement of poultry when deemed necessary.

Consumers are assured that eggs and broiler meat products are safe to eat, provided normal cooking protocols are followed. Specifically, temperatures above 60˚C are recommended. – Press release, South African Poultry Association