Cape Times

Ostrich farms put under quarantine

- Lisa Isaacs

THE Western Cape Department of Agricultur­e is investigat­ing possible incidences of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI), type H5N8, in two ostrich farms in the Heidelberg area.

Both farms have been placed under quarantine.

Department head of communicat­ion Petro van Rhyn said regular surveillan­ce through blood samples and throat swabs are done to test for avian flu, and signs of the virus were picked up on the swabs.

Once infection has been confirmed, the next step is to establish how many local birds are affected and ensure the disease is not spread by human activities, Van Rhyn said.

“As the disease is carried by wild birds, the spread via this route is difficult to control. There are so far still no clinical signs and this is common for many strains of avian influenza in ostriches,” she said.

While the ostriches suspected to be infected are not close to any commercial poultry farms, no decision has yet been taken to cull them.

“The two farms each contain about 1 000 ostriches. But as there are no clinical signs and we have not tested them all, we do not know how many are infected,” she said.

Van Rhyn said ostrich and chicken meat on sale in retail outlets is safe for human consumptio­n.

“Meat on supermarke­t shelves has come from abattoirs where meat is inspected and which will not be allowed to use animals from infected farms. Additional­ly, this strain of the virus had shown no signs, anywhere in the world, of being infectious to humans,” she said.

In a statement, the department said quarantine measures

As the disease is carried by wild birds, the spread is difficult to control

mean no movement of birds to or from affected properties will be allowed. People and vehicles will have to adhere to strict hygiene measures.

Thirteen outbreaks have occurred in South Africa since June, in Mpumalanga and Gauteng. The outbreaks involved seven commercial chicken farms, two groups of backyard chickens, three sets of wild birds and one group of domestic geese.

Avian influenza is a viral respirator­y disease of birds believed to be transmitte­d by wild migratory birds. In southern Africa, the H5N8 strain of the disease also affected the poultry industry in Zimbabwe, where thousands of commercial birds have died or had to be culled.

Avian Influenza is mainly spread by direct contact between healthy and infected birds, or by contact with contaminat­ed equipment.

The virus is in the faeces of infected birds and discharges from their noses, mouth and eyes. It can spread to domestic flocks kept outdoors through faecal contaminat­ion from wild birds; infection among indoor flocks is spread via airborne discharges and faeces.

There is no preventive vaccine or treatment for HPAI H5N8. Current practice in most regions of the world requires culling of infected birds.

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