Avian influenza: Poultry industry on high alert

The South African Poultry Association cautions that the risk for avian influenza outbreaks and bird culling will be high this winter

The Western Cape has been particularly hard hit by avian influenza outbreaks since 2021, followed by Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

The Western Cape has been particularly hard hit by avian influenza outbreaks since 2021, followed by Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

South African poultry farmers should be on high alert this winter, as the risk for outbreaks of avian influenza will be high.

This warning was issued by the South African Poultry Association in the latest edition of Poultry Bulletin, its official industry newsletter.

It cautions that outbreaks may lead to large numbers of birds having to be culled, and adds that the northern hemisphere, including North America, has seen severe outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) through its winter months.

“All indications are that there is a high risk of HPAI outbreaks occurring in South Africa during the winter of 2022,” the association’s latest avian influenza monitoring report says. “International opinion remains opposed to vaccination against HPAI, so losses to the poultry industry will be high if this does occur.”

Sapa says that the industry has already suffered severe losses since the current series of outbreaks started in April 2021. Up to mid-March this year, 3.7 million birds have been culled, of which 2.9 million were culled in the egg industry and 800 000 in the broiler sector.

These losses represent 2.6% of the national flock: 9.6% of the egg industry flock and 0.6% of the broiler flock respectively.

“The egg industry in the Western Cape has suffered the greatest losses, with an estimated 30.6% of their layers having been affected by the H5N1 outbreak,” Sapa says.

A total of 145 HPAI outbreaks have now been reported, with 13 of those new cases in the first quarter of this year. The highest number has been in the Western Cape (68) followed by Gauteng (39) and KwaZulu-Natal (18).

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A word of caution to producers

“Producers are advised to remain on the alert and continue to comply with HPAI protocols. The ongoing submission of test results to Sapa is an important part of the surveillance programme,” the organisation says.

“Sapa is taking various steps to improve biosecurity and avian influenza monitoring. Because most outbreaks are transmitted by wild birds, Sapa is encouraging producers to submit wild bird samples from areas adjacent to their farms.”

ALSO READ: Avian flu outbreak: 5 tips to save your poultry business

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