Farmers are on high alert after government confirmed that about 300 chickens were culled because of an outbreak of avian influenza at a commercial farm in Ekurhuleni in the east of Gauteng.
Late last night, the department of agriculture, land reform and rural development, said that the samples sent to a laboratory confirmed tested positive for the H5, a virus strain that causes a highly infectious, severe respiratory disease in birds.
While the name of the specific farm was not mentioned, government did indicate that the farm was also implicated in a 2017 outbreak of H5N8, a highly pathogenic avian influenza virus.
Farm access restricted
With the latest incident, Gauteng veterinary authorities placed the farm under quarantine while they are investigating the cause of the outbreak, said Reggie Ngcobo, spokesperson for Thoko Didiza, the agriculture minister.
They are performing back and forward tracing to determine the existence of the outbreak and assist with the safe disposal of dead chickens and disinfection of the farm, said Ngcobo.
Upon confirmation that the chickens died of H5, the birds in the chicken house were immediately destroyed.
Arrangements were made for samples to be urgently tested at Onderstepoort Veterinary Research to determine the pathotype as well as to determine the N-type of the results. These results are still outstanding.
Besides the Gauteng bird flu shocker, government said it was also notified of mass die-off of wild birds in Stutterheim in the Eastern Cape. Samples of chickens that were collected at the end of March 2021 in two villages, however, tested negative for both Newcastle disease and avian influenza.
Follow-up investigations are currently underway.
Watch-list for poultry farmers
Meanwhile government has asked poultry farmers to be on the lookout for any potential signs of disease that may indicate bird flu. Any suspicions should be immediately reported to the nearest state veterinarian for investigation.
Didiza’s department has listed the following signs commonly seen in birds infected with avian influenza:
- quietness and extreme depression;
- sudden drop in production of eggs, many of which are soft-shelled or shell-less.
- wattle and combs become red and swollen;
- swelling of the skin under the eyes;
- coughing, sneezing and nervous signs;
- hemorrhages (blood spots) on the hock;
- a few deaths may occur over several days, followed by the rapid spread of disease and up to 100% deaths within a period of 48 hours.
Additionally, poultry farmers as well as those who keep bids for a hobby or zoo purposes are encouraged to implement the following biosecurity measures:
- Keep birds away from areas that are visited by wild birds.
- Control access of people and equipment to poultry houses.
- Do not provide water and food in a way that may attract wild birds. Rather feed free-range birds under cover or inside a confined structure.
- Maintain proper disinfection of the property, poultry house and equipment.
- Avoid the introduction of birds of unknown disease status into your flock(s).
- Report illness and deaths of birds to your responsible state of private veterinarian.
- Implement procedures for safe disposal of manure and dead birds.